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Opposition parties in Pakistan block highways to protest against official election result

THOUSANDS of supporters of Pakistan’s jailed ex-prime minister Imran Khan and members of other political parties blocked major roads and started a day-long strike in the volatile south-west today.

The protesters hit the streets complaining that last week’s national elections were rigged after the exclusion of Mr Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI).

Dozens of Mr Khan’s supporters were briefly detained in the eastern city of Lahore over the weekend while protesting over alleged vote-rigging.

Jan Achakzai, a government spokesman in the south-western province of Baluchistan, urged protesters to “show grace” by accepting defeat.

Police had previously warned that they would come down hard on illegal gatherings and cited a Section 144 order, a colonial-era law banning demonstrations.

Mr Khan was barred from standing because of criminal convictions that he says are politically motivated.

But candidates backed by Mr Khan won more seats than the political parties who ousted him from power nearly two years ago.

No party won a majority, however, so the parties will have to hold talks on forming a coalition government. The new parliament chooses the country’s next prime minister.

Candidates aligned with Mr Khan secured 101 out of 266 seats in the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament.

The Pakistan Muslim League-N party led by three-time prime minister and ex-felon Nawaz Sharif secured 75 seats. 

Mr Sharif is currently in talks with allies to form a coalition government.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), led by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, came in third with 54 seats. One result has been withheld and another vote was postponed because of a candidate’s death. 

The campaign to oust Mr Khan from office in 2022 was led by the PML-N and the PPP with military support.

The constitution says a government must be formed by at least February 29, three weeks after election day. 

The National Assembly has a total of 336 seats, of which 266 are decided by direct voting and 70 are reserved — 60 for women and 10 for non-Muslims.

These seats are allocated according to the strength of each party in the assembly.

Mr Khan’s media adviser Zulfi Bukhari told the BBC yesterday that it is possible the PTI will choose to sit in opposition instead of forming a coalition if it fails to muster a majority.

As wrangling continues, independent candidates who did not win their campaigns have flooded courts with vote-rigging allegations. 

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