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Pakistan Election Highlights Military’s Sway Over Stormy Politics

Pakistanis have labeled it a “selection” — not an election. Human rights monitors have condemned it as neither free nor fair.

As voters cast ballots on Thursday, the influence of Pakistan’s powerful military and the turbulent state of its politics were on full display. Few doubted which party would come out on top, a reflection of the generals’ ultimate hold on Pakistan’s troubled democracy.

But the military is facing new challenges to its authority from a discontented public, making this an especially fraught moment in the nation’s history.

As results began to trickle in Thursday evening, the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — the military’s preferred party of the moment — was still expected to win, but it did not look as if it would pull off the easy victory that was widely predicted. Parliamentary candidates allied with another former prime minister, Imran Khan, were neck and neck with Mr. Sharif’s party in many races in Punjab, the country’s most populous province and political heartland.

The election took place in the shadow of a monthslong military campaign to gut the party of Mr. Khan, a former international cricket star and populist leader who was ousted by Parliament in 2022 after falling out with the generals.

While few expect Mr. Khan’s party to win the most seats, its competitiveness showed the deep-seated support Mr. Khan maintains, even as his supporters have faced intense pressure from the military. The tight races and delay in announcing preliminary results also prompted fears among his supporters that the military might tamper with the vote count as the official results are tallied over the coming days.