Imprisoned former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced his victory in Thursday's general elections and called on his supporters to celebrate.
Independent candidates associated with him have won the most seats so far, with a majority declared.
But another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, says his party has become the largest and is urging others to join him in the coalition.
It does not appear that any group or party is on its way to winning an absolute majority. The final results have not been announced yet.
In a powerful video message posted on X Khan, who was created using artificial intelligence, claimed that his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party had achieved a “landslide victory” despite what he described as a crackdown on his party.
He is currently in prison after being convicted in cases he says are politically motivated.
The success of the PTI-linked candidates was unexpected, with most experts agreeing that Sharif – who is believed to be backed by the country's powerful military – is the most likely candidate.
But the PTI is not a recognized party after being banned from contesting elections, so technically the PML-N is the largest formal political group.
Now the political bargaining begins in earnest, which means it may be some time before anyone can claim outright victory.
In a speech on Friday, Sharif acknowledged that he did not have the numbers needed to form a government on his own. But outside his party headquarters in the city of Lahore, his supporters urged other candidates to join him in a coalition, saying he could pull the country out of difficult times.
Speaking on BBC's Newsnight program on Friday, Zulfikar Bukhari, a former special assistant to Khan, said: “Knowing Imran Khan and knowing the ethos of our political party PTI, I don't think we will form any coalition, form a government with anyone.” From the main parties.
“However, we will form a coalition…to be in parliament – not as independents but under one banner and one party.”
Asked if Khan could be released, Bukhari said: “I think the moment we go to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court, we are very confident that he will be released, and a lot of the charges – if not all of them.” “They will be dismissed on the basis of legal merit and procedural merits.”
The third largest party appears to be the Pakistan People's Party, led by Bilawal Bhutto, the son of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007.
As the results came in, the United Kingdom and the United States expressed concerns about restrictions on electoral freedoms during voting.
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said that the United Kingdom urged the authorities in Pakistan to “uphold fundamental human rights, including freedom of access to information and the rule of law.”
In a statement, he expressed his “regret that all parties were not officially allowed to run in the elections.”
Meanwhile, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller criticized what he described as “unjustified restrictions on the freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly” during Pakistan's electoral process.
He also cited “attacks on media workers” and “restrictions on access to internet and communications services” as reasons for concern about “allegations of interference” in the process.
Many analysts said that these elections are the least credible in Pakistan.
Voters in Lahore told the BBC that the internet blackout on polling day meant it was not possible to book taxis to go and vote, while others said they could not coordinate when to go to the polls with their family members.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Interior said that the power outage was necessary for security reasons.
Military support in Pakistan is seen as important for political success, and analysts believe that Sharif and his party currently enjoy their support, despite their differences in the past.
Maya Tudor, an associate professor at Oxford University's Blavatnik School of Government, said the leadership taken by Imran Khan's PTI was “shocking” in the context of the country's past.
“A win would be fantastic – in every other election in Pakistan’s modern history, the military’s preferred candidate has won,” Dr Tudor explained.
As many as 128 million people were registered to vote, almost half of whom were under the age of 35. More than 5,000 candidates – including only 313 women – competed for 266 directly elected seats in the National Assembly, which consists of 336 members.
Pakistan's former ambassador to the United States, Maleeha Lodhi, said that Pakistan “urgently” needs political stability to address what she described as “the worst economic crisis in its history.”
But on a hopeful note, Lodhi said Pakistani voter numbers showed “faith in the democratic process.”
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