Imran Khan’s surprising achievement in Pakistan’s national election defied most standard political projections in a country where leaders who oppose the powerful military are rarely elected.
Supporters of Mr. Khan, the imprisoned former prime minister, are both enthralled by the presence of candidates allied with his party, which won the most seats in last week’s election, and angry by what they call flagrant cheating and the likelihood that other parties may eventually control the government.
Here’s everything you need to know about the current uncertainties surrounding Pakistan’s political system.
What is ahead for the system of government?
Mr. Khan’s supporters are challenging the results of dozens of races in the country’s courts, and pressure is mounting on Pakistan’s Election Commission to admit widely alleged errors in vote counting.
Supporters of Mr. Khan plan to organise peaceful rallies outside electoral commission offices in seats where they believe cheating occurred. Protests have already broken out in many parts of the country, particularly in the restive southern Baluchistan Province.
As of lunchtime Sunday, the Election Commission had not finalised the results of Thursday’s vote. Preliminary results showed 92 independents winning (mostly supporters of Mr. Khan, whose party was barred from running), 77 seats going to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and 54 going to the Pakistan People’s Party, the third major party.
To form a majority administration, a party must win at least 169 seats in the 336-member National Assembly. The Pakistani Constitution requires that the National Assembly, or lower house of Parliament, convene within 21 days of an election to determine its leadership and, ultimately, the prime minister.
With candidates from Mr. Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, falling short of a majority in the early count, vigorous jockeying is beginning to establish a government.
Mr. Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, is considering forming a coalition with the Pakistan People’s Party and a smaller party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which won 17 seats. In another possible path to a government led by his conservative party, Mr. Sharif hopes to attract enough independent candidates to avoid having to partner with the P.P.P., which leans left.
Although Mr. Sharif, a three-time prime minister, is leading his party’s negotiations, it is unclear who will lead any alliance fighting the populist Mr. Khan, who is barred from running in the polls.
Mr. Sharif’s brother, Shehbaz Sharif, is a likely candidate for prime minister, having headed a similar coalition following Mr. Khan’s dismissal in April 2022. Shehbaz Sharif is regarded as more submissive to the military than Nawaz, who clashed with the generals during his tenure in power. Nawaz Sharif won a seat in Thursday’s election, but Khan supporters are challenging the results due to rigging charges.
Mr. Khan’s allies may possibly seek to build a coalition administration, but they will meet opposition from the military, which is widely believed to favour a P.M.L.N.-P.P.P. combination. With Mr. Khan’s party banned, his supporters who won seats would be forced to join another party that has expressed support.
And his followers will very certainly establish a government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where he is extremely popular and has earned an absolute majority.
What comes next for the military?
The widespread outrage over the military’s participation in politics is expected to put pressure on the country’s army head, Gen. Syed Asim Munir.
General Munir must now decide whether to seek reconciliation with Mr. Khan or to forge an anti-Khan political coalition, which many observers say will be weak and unsustainable. General Munir issued a public statement on Saturday calling for unity and healing, which some saw as a desire to talk with Mr. Khan.
According to Farwa Aamer, head of South Asia programmes at the Asia Society Policy Institute, “the influential military could potentially lose public support.”
The military establishment will face a difficult task in keeping Mr. Khan behind bars. With his electoral wins, pressure to release him on bail will increase, particularly in cases where courts rushed to convict him in the days before the election.
Mr. Khan was granted bail on Saturday on one of the several charges brought against him, this time involving violence by fans who trashed military sites in May. However, he still risks decades in prison for his prior crimes.
Some experts pointed to parallels between today and 1988, when Benazir Bhutto won the election against opposition from the army and intelligence services.
Under American pressure, the generals reluctantly turned over power to Ms. Bhutto but did not give her complete control over the country’s foreign or nuclear policies.
She did not finish her term, and her government was overthrown in 1990 due to corruption and incompetence allegations.