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Pakistan election: ex-PM Nawaz Sharif’s party in close race with allies of jailed Imran Khan

Former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s party was slightly ahead in early election results on Friday, after vote counts were hit by unusual delays that the government ascribed to a suspension of mobile phone services.

By 0600 GMT (2.25pm Hong Kong time), the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had announced 47 results for the 265 contested seats in the National Assembly, with Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) winning 17 and supporters of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan 14.

Twelve seats were taken by the Pakistan Peoples Party of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated premier Benazir Bhutto, it said. The rest were won by small parties or non-aligned independents.

Khan is in jail and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was barred from Thursday’s election, so his supporters contested as independents.

Analysts have predicted there may be no clear winner in the election, adding to the woes of a country struggling to recover from an economic crisis while it grapples with rising militant violence in a deeply polarised political environment.

Few results had been announced over 30 hours after the polls closed, unusual for elections in Pakistan.

An “internet issue” was the reason behind the delay, Zafar Iqbal, special secretary at the ECP, said without elaborating.

The government said it suspended mobile phone services ahead of the election on Thursday as a security measure, and they were being partially restored.

The main battle was expected to be between candidates backed by Khan, whose PTI won the last national election, and the PML-N of three-time premier Sharif.

Khan believes the powerful military is behind a crackdown to hound his party out of existence, while analysts and opponents say Sharif is