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As Pakistan Finishes Vote Count, Imran Khan’s Rivals Stand Down

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A vendor in Islamabad sitting next to images of Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Movement for Justice swept most of the country, performing strongly in urban areas. He was the military’s favored candidate.CreditAthit Perawongmetha/Reuters

By Jeffrey Gettleman

LAHORE, Pakistan — As Pakistan neared the end of a long and contentious vote-counting process on Friday, political rivals of Imran Khan, the leader of the winning party, began to grudgingly accept that he would become Pakistan’s next prime minister.

Mr. Khan’s party, the Pakistan Movement for Justice, swept most of the country, performing strongly in urban areas and so far winning 116 parliamentary seats, compared with 64 for the second-place party, known as the P.M.L.-N. By 6 p.m. Friday, the national election commission had finished counting votes for 264 seats out of the 269 that were contested on Wednesday.

Mr. Khan, a former cricket star who has been on a quest for higher office for the past 20 years, was the favorite candidate of Pakistan’s powerful military. Human rights groups and many analysts have said that in the months before the election, military and intelligence officials threatened and blackmailed politicians in rival parties to defect to Mr. Khan’s side, clearing a path for his victory. Mr. Khan has denied this.

Analysts have also said that the military was intent on taking out Pakistan’s last prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who was jailed by an anticorruption court shortly before the election, because he had challenged its hold on foreign and security policy. Many of the candidates who joined Mr. Khan’s ticket came from Mr. Sharif’s party, the P.M.L.-N.

Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, one of the P.M.L.-N.’s leaders and the nephew of Mr. Sharif, said that his party had many complaints about how the election had been run and that on Wednesday night, some of his party’s observers had been illegally blocked from watching the ballots being counted.

But his party does not plan to boycott the results and instead has decided to become part of the political opposition to Mr. Khan’s party in the National Assembly, he said Friday.

“We don’t want to disrupt the process of democracy in Pakistan,” Mr. Hamza said. “The country faces a lot of challenges. Therefore all parties should work in harmony to ensure the country doesn’t suffer.”

In Pakistan, analysts say, that passes as a concession speech.

A representative of the Pakistan Peoples Party, which is run by the Bhutto political dynasty and came third with 43 seats, said on Friday that it had yet to decide whether to accept the official results.

Mr. Khan’s rivals have made accusations of vote-rigging and expressed suspicion over the slow tabulation of ballots, which has taken more than two days. Election officials apologized and said the delay had been caused by a meltdown in their computer systems that cut off the transmission of results on election night.

Most Pakistanis have taken the glitches in their stride and accepted Mr. Khan as the winner, with few people in cafes and stores paying much attention to the political news being broadcast on televisions all around them. Despite vague threats by the losing parties, no major protests have broken out.

Mr. Khan remains popular, especially among young people in Pakistan’s cities, who seem energized by his win. He is known as a strident anticorruption fighter, and in a speech to the nation he made on Thursday, he emphasized populist policies to help Pakistan’s many poor.

Some critics accuse him of being too sympathetic to the Taliban and other extremist groups. Mr. Khan has presented himself as a dedicated Muslim, and in his speech on Thursday he said he wanted Pakistani society to be more like the Islamic welfare state that the Prophet Muhammad established centuries ago.

Observers from a European Union delegation seemed disappointed in how the election had been run.

“Over all, the election process in 2018 was not as satisfactory as in 2013,” said Michael Gahler, the chief of the delegation, referring to Pakistan’s last general election.

He added that the news media had been restricted and the elections had been “negatively affected by the country’s political environment.”

Reporting was contributed by Salman Masood in Islamabad, and Daniyal Hassan and Meher Ahmad in Lahore.

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