Former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appears to have won enough seats to form a stable government without relying on support from his major rivals. The victory marks a spectacular comeback.
By midday on Sunday, television channels reported that Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) had gained 88 of the 272 contested seats in the National Assembly.
Based on projections, the party looked set to take about 130 seats in all, meaning that it would be able to form a coalition with smaller independent parties rather than bigger rivals.
Flanked by his relatives, the 63-year-old oil tycoon gave a victory speech late on Saturday to hundreds of jubilant supporters at PML-N headquarters in Lahore. "We should thank Allah that he has given PML-N another chance to serve you and Pakistan," said Sharif.
Historic change of leadership
The landmark poll marks the first handover of power in the country from one elected administration to another after a full term in office. Civilian rule has been punctuated by three military coups in Pakistan's history.
The former cricket star Imran Khan and his Movement for Justice (PTI) party had hoped to break the dominance of both the PML-N and the Pakistani People's Party (PPP), which have alternately governed the country when the military was not in power.
Khan, who has appealed to young and middle class voters, conceded defeat on Sunday but hailed a high turnout as a sign that the country was experiencing a political awakening.
"There are victories and defeats, but the pain of this defeat was all gone when I looked at the enthusiasm among the youth," Khan said in a television message. However, Khan also announced there was evidence of vote-rigging.
Tapping in to anger
While the PTI appears to have lost out nationally, the party did emerge as a credible political force with which to be reckoned. Regionally, the PTI was set to take over as the provincial government in the restive northwest, where he has tapped into public anger over drone attacks and pledged peace talks with the Taliban.
Meanwhile, the secular PPP, which led the government for the last five years, could come in third place. The party has become increasingly unpopular, with growing discontent over perceived corruption and chronic power outages.
Sharif, a religious conservative, would still face those problems, as well as the question of how to work with the top echelons of the still-powerful Pakistani military.
Election day was marred by several bomb blasts, one attack on a party office in the southern city of Karachi killing 11.
rc/mkg (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)