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Pakistan’s ex-PM Sharif seeks coalition government after trailing jailed rival Khan

The former prime minister of Pakistan expected his party would claim an easy victory in the country’s parliamentary elections, sending him to the top job for a fourth time. Instead, Nawaz Sharif faces a difficult path to power.

Independent candidates backed by his imprisoned rival, Imran Khan, were leading in the vote count on Friday, a surprisingly strong showing given assertions by Khan’s supporters and a national rights body that the balloting was manipulated to favour Sharif.

That scrambled the plans of Sharif – and the security establishment backing him – forcing him to announce plans on Friday to try to form a coalition government.

A day earlier, Sharif had gruffly rejected the idea of a coalition, confidently telling reporters after casting his vote that he wanted a single party running Pakistan for a full five-year term.

Khan, a former cricket star turned Islamist politician with a significant grass roots following, was disqualified from running in Thursday’s election because of criminal convictions. He contends his sentences and a slew of legal cases pending against him were politically motivated.

Khan’s party’s candidates were forced to run as independents after they were barred from using the party symbol – a cricket bat – to help illiterate voters find them on ballots.

Despite those setbacks – and with most of the 266 National Assembly constituencies announced by the election oversight body – candidates backed by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, or PTI, had won 99 seats. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League party had 71 seats. The election was postponed in one constituency because of the killing of one of the candidates.

However, with a third major party in the mix, nobody could declare outright victory.