Riot police in Pakistan have fired tear gas to disperse supporters of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan after his party urged protests outside election offices where they allege rigging took place in last week’s national vote.
Ugly clashes were reported in Rawalpindi city, and in the eastern city of Lahore, where police are said to have charged at and dispersed protesters after earlier warnings that they would come down hard on illegal gatherings.
Pictures show hundreds of supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party gathering at dozens of other protests across the country, most of which were held without incident.
Allies of Khan won the most seats in Thursday’s national election, according to a final tally of results, as the former international cricketer continues to languish in jail over corruption charges and an allegedly illegal marriage.
The electoral success came despite fears that a campaign of mass arrests and harassment would favour army-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), putting former premier Nawaz Sharif on track for a fourth term as prime minister.
Police officers work to disperse protestors showing support for the convicted former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan
In Rawalpindi, police fired tear gas at a crowd of dozens of PTI supporters after they refused orders to stop picketing an office
Supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party chant slogans during a protest in Karachi
Supporters of Khan hold up pictures of him and refer to him as ‘the last hope’ at a protest in Karachi
Police officers drag away a man at a protest against alleged election rigging in Rawalpindi, Pakistan
Imran Khan (pictured) called on his supporters to celebrate a win that was achieved despite what he calls a crackdown on his party
Independent candidates – most linked to the PTI – took the most seats in the polls, scuppering the chances of the PML-N to win a ruling majority.
However, independents cannot form a government and the country faces weeks of political uncertainty as rival parties negotiate possible coalitions.
PTI leaders claim they would have won even more seats if not for vote rigging.
A nationwide election-day mobile telephone blackout and the slow counting of results led to suspicions the military establishment was influencing the process to ensure success for Sharif’s PML-N.
Candidates from the PTI ran as independents because of moves by the Election Commission and Supreme Court to cripple their party’s participation.
One step included stripping the party of its electoral symbol, which helps illiterate voters find candidates on the ballot. Another was banning party rallies.
‘Throughout Pakistan, elections were manipulated in a subtle way,’ PTI chairman Gohar Ali Khan told a news conference Saturday, calling on supporters to ‘protest peacefully’ on Sunday.
Authorities warned they would take strict action, saying so-called Section 144 orders were in place – a colonial-era law banning public gatherings.
‘Some individuals are inciting illegal gatherings around the Election Commission and other government offices,’ a statement from Islamabad’s police force said on Sunday.
‘Legal action will be taken against unlawful assemblies. It should be noted that soliciting for gatherings is also a crime,’ it said.
A similar warning was also issued in Rawalpindi, while dozens of police equipped with riot gear assembled near Liberty Market in Lahore.
In Rawalpindi, police fired tear gas at a crowd of dozens of PTI supporters after they refused orders to stop picketing an office used to collect constituency election results.
Police officers fired tear gas at protesters as they worked to disperse the demonstrations over the weekend
PTI supporters chant as they gather at a peaceful protest in Karachi. There were clashes with police elsewhere
A portrait of the former Prime Minister Imran Khan is seen amid flags of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the religious and political party Jamat-e-Islami (JI)
A supporter of Pakistan’s imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s kisses a portrait of him
Police officers appear to arrest a man who they are seen pushing into the back of a vehicle in Rawalpindi
Another gathering of around 200 PTI supporters in Lahore dispersed quickly when police moved in with riot shields and batons, with video showing people being dragged away by the police.
Local media reported that several people were detained in Karachi, in the south, when they refused orders to clear the area.
Khan’s party defied a months-long crackdown, which crippled campaigning and forced candidates to run as independents, to emerge as the winners of Thursday’s vote.
Khan claimed victory via an AI video message and shared on X, in which he rejected rival and three-time former prime minister Sharif’s earlier claim to victory.
He called on his supporters to celebrate a win that was achieved despite what he calls a crackdown on his party, telling them: ‘I had faith in you. Your massive turnout frightened everyone. Nobody can stop us. Don’t be scared. Celebrate.’
Final results were announced Sunday, with independents winning 101 seats, PML-N 75, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) 54, and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) 17.
Ten minor parties mopped up the remaining 17 seats, with two remaining vacant.
‘The results have clearly indicated that no single party possesses a simple majority to establish a government,’ said Zahid Hussain, a political analyst and author.
‘The political future of the country from this point onward is highly uncertain.’
Still, PTI leaders insist they have been given a ‘people’s mandate’ to form the next government.
‘The people have decided in favour of Imran Khan,’ party chairman Gohar Ali Khan told Arab News in an interview.
Scores of protesters gathered in Rawalpindi, south of Pakistan’s capital, and were dispersed by police
A gathering of around 200 PTI supporters in Lahore dispersed quickly when police moved in with riot shields and batons
A coalition between the PML-N and the PPP – who formed the last government after ousting Khan with a no-confidence vote in April 2022 – still seems the most likely outcome.
Pakistan’s military chief told feuding politicians on Saturday to show ‘maturity and unity’.
‘The nation needs stable hands and a healing touch to move on from the politics of anarchy and polarisation which does not suit a progressive country of 250 million people,’ General Syed Asim Munir said in a statement.
The military looms large over Pakistan’s political landscape, with generals having run the country for nearly half its history since partition from India in 1947.
The military-backed PML-N, founded by Sharif, declared victory as the party with the largest number of seats, but to form a government he will be forced to cut deals with rivals and independents.
Khan was barred from contesting the election after being handed several lengthy prison sentences in the days leading up to the vote.
He was convicted this month of treason, graft and having an un-Islamic marriage in three separate trials among nearly 200 cases brought against him since he was ousted.