The polls were a landmark, marking the first time one elected government will replace another. But the vote failed to realise the hopes of many that dynastic politics would end after years of misrule and corruption.
Sharif, a wealthy steel magnate from the pivotal Punjab province, held off a challenge from former cricket star Imran Khan who had hoped to break decades of dominance by Sharif and the Pakistan People’s Party led by the Bhutto family.
Sharif, 63, declared victory in a jubilant speech to supporters as results from Saturday’s election showed an overwhelming lead for his party.
Nawaz Sharif looks set to return as PM, raising prospects of better relations with India. AFP “Results are still coming in, but this much is confirmed: we’re the single largest party so far,” he declared to hoots of joy from the crowd in Punjab’s capital, Lahore.
“Please pray that by morning we’re in a position that we don’t need the crutch of coalition partners.”
Despite pre-election violence and attacks on Saturday that killed at least 17 people, millions turned out to cast their ballot in a milestone election for a country that has been ruled by the military for more than half of its turbulent history.
With the count continuing into the night, Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) was leading in 119 of the 272 National Assembly seats that were contested.
His party may not have enough seats to rule on its own and may be forced into a coalition, which could make it difficult to push reforms desperately needed to revive a near-failed economy.
Sharif, who advocates free-market economics, is likely to pursue privatization and deregulation to revive flagging growth.
He will have to ease widespread discontent over endemic corruption, chronic power cuts and crumbling...