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Pakistani parties haggle to form a coalition following controversial elections


Horse trading has begun following controversial elections in Pakistan last week. A former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, is likely to assume power of a coalition government, but supporters of another former prime minister, who wasn't even on the ballot, are claiming this election was rigged. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports, and please note that you will hear the sound of gunfire in this story.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: A video from a northwestern district shows residents protesting against what they say was rigging in last Thursday's elections against their candidate, who was backed by the former prime minister Imran Khan. There's gunfire.


HADID: The men shout, God is great, as they drag one fallen man away.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: There's been more protests since then.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

HADID: Khan is Pakistan's most popular leader, and his party is calling for calm in the wake of chaotic elections. Khan fell out with the powerful military and was ousted from the premiership nearly two years ago. He is currently in prison serving multiple terms. His party was banned from fielding candidates, and so they ran as independents. The party used an AI-generated persona of Khan to urge people to vote. They also door knocked, ran rallies on TikTok and created chatbots that told illiterate voters who their candidate was.

And so Khan's party emerged with the biggest bloc in parliament with 90 seats, but they say they were robbed of dozens more because of election day rigging. Washington and other Western countries have called for investigations into those allegations. The Pakistani government described the elections as free and enthusiastic.

One seat under contention was won by another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, but even a document his party shared online suggests votes had not been tallied correctly. Sharif's party says it hopes to form a government coalition with a junior party called the PDP. Zahid Hussain is a columnist, author and analyst of Pakistani affairs. He spoke on a shaky line.

ZAHID HUSSAIN: That in a few days' time, we can see some kind of agreement between these two political parties. This plan is being pushed by the military. Basically, this government will largely be dependent on the military for survival.

HADID: Dependent on the military for survival because, Hussain says, it won't have much legitimacy with ordinary Pakistanis, many of whom believe their vote was stolen.

Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Mumbai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.