Supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party celebrate along the road during the general election in Karachi, Pakistan, July 25, 2018.
Supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party celebrate along the road during the general election in Karachi, Pakistan, July 25, 2018.

ISLAMABAD - Preliminary results in Pakistan’s parliamentary election indicate the political party of sports-celebrity-turned-politician Imran Khan leads the vote count amid allegations from almost all rival parties that Wednesday’s poll was rigged in Khan’s favor.

Officials at the independent Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) have promised to announce full results later Thursday, but they denied rigging charges and cited technical failures in an electronic reporting system for massive delays in releasing the outcomes.

With 47 percent of the nationwide polling stations counted, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI, or Pakistan Movement for Justice) is winning 113 of the 272 seats up for grabs in the lower house of parliament, known as National Assembly. The rest of the seats in the 342-member house are reserved for women and minorities and are given to various political parties based on their percentage of winning seats.

Analysts say if Khan’s lead holds, he will be poised to form a government with the support of smaller groups and independents.

The main rival, the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party of the jailed former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of Bilawal Bhutto were leading in 66 and 39 constituencies respectively.

Pakistani election staff count the votes after pol
Pakistani election staff count the votes after polls closed at a polling station for the parliamentary elections in Karachi, Pakistan, July 25, 2018.

?Charges of rigged election

But just hours after the counting began late Wednesday, Sharif’s party alleged the election process was rigged and manipulated in favor of Khan. Several other political parties made similar allegations.

However, Chief Election Commissioner Sardar Mohammad Raza, strongly defended the voting process as free and fair.

“These elections were 100 percent transparent and fair. … There is no stain,” Raza insisted while speaking to reporters early Thursday.

The election is just Pakistan’s third peaceful transition of power. The military has ruled the Muslim-majority nation of more than 200 million people for nearly half of its 71-year-history.

 

WATCH: Former Cricketeer Imran Khan is Frontrunner in Pakistan's Upcoming Elections

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?Economic troubles

The democratic transition is taking place at a time when Pakistan’s economic troubles are deepening and foreign exchange reserves are depleting quickly. Analysts say the crisis will likely force the new government to seek a bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Khan acknowledged while speaking to VOA on the eve of the election that the economy is the biggest challenge facing Pakistan.

“The only way we can overcome this is by revamping the way we do governance in this country, strengthening institutions and then spending it on our human beings,” Khan noted. This is “the rock bottom” for Pakistan, he warned.

“Never have we fallen so low as we have right now in terms of human development, in terms of the cost of doing business, in terms of our economy going down the drain. So, the challenges are huge but they can only be done … if we change the way we do governance in this country.”

Khan vowed to root out rampant corruption and introduce poverty reduction programs if his party wins the election.

 

WATCH: Pakistan's Contentious Election Draws to a Close

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Election violence

Wednesday’s vote was disrupted by militant attacks and incidents of gunfire between political rivals.

The deadliest incident occurred in Quetta, capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, where a suicide blast ripped through a crowed of political activists, voters and security personnel, killing more than 30 people. The Islamic State terrorist group claimed responsibility for the bloodshed.

For months, the PML-N has been accusing the military of covertly helping Khan’s election campaign, charges both Khan and the military have strongly denied.

The PML-N’s electoral chances have also been shaken by Sharif’s conviction in absentia earlier this month on corruption charges involving expensive properties he and his family held overseas.

Sharif, who was immediately placed in custody after returning from Britain nearly two weeks ago, has denounced the verdict as politically motivated and accused a covert military-judiciary alliance of trying to keep him out of politics and undermining the integrity of his PML-N party.

The campaign leading up to the July 25 vote had been marred by violence that have left more than 170 people dead.