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PTI-linked independents take Pakistan election lead as counting nears end

Early results show wins for candidates affiliated with former PM Imran Khan’s party, followed by PMLN and PPP contenders.

Candidates linked to jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s political party are in the lead in Pakistan’s election, ahead of two dynastic parties believed to be favoured by the military, as vote counting enters its final leg.

In an AI-generated “victory speech” posted on the social media platform X on Friday, Khan described the vote as an “unprecedented fightback from the nation” that resulted in Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) “landslide victory”, despite what he calls a crackdown on his party.

Khan’s PTI 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.

Election results started to trickle in nearly 12 hours after polling for national and provincial assemblies ended on Thursday, showing PTI-affiliated candidates taking a narrow lead, followed by Pakistan Muslim League (PMLN) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) contenders.

Independent candidates, most backed by the PTI, have won 99 seats so far out of 266 total in the National Assembly. The PMLN has won 69, and the PPP 52. Results are still due for about two dozen more seats.

Meanwhile, another former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who heads the PMLN, said he would seek to form a coalition government after his party trailed the independent candidates backed by Khan.

Earlier, Sharif had claimed victory in the elections while the votes were still being counted.

But he later backtracked, saying, “We don’t have enough of a majority to form a government without the support of others and we invite allies to join the coalition so we can make