Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan on Thursday claimed victory in the general elections after his party emerged as the single largest in the National Assembly with its candidates winning 104 seats and leading in 14 others, amid rival political parties' claim of 'blatant' rigging.
Jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz won 58 seats and was leading in four constituencies while Pakistan Peoples Party led by former president Asif Ali Zardari won 37 seats and its candidates were leading in six seats, according to the latest unofficial results.
Pakistan's National Assembly comprises a total of 342 members, of which 272 are directly elected whereas the rest -- 60 seats reserved for women and 10 for religious minorities -- are selected later through proportional representation among parties with more than five per cent of the vote.
A party can only form the government if it manages to clinch 172 seats in total.
The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal -- an alliance of traditional religious parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan and Tehreek-e-Jafaria -- and Muttahida Qaumi Movement were leading in eight seats each.
In the eastern city of Lahore, capital of Punjab province and the country's political heartland, PTI supporters rejoiced by waving flags and raising party slogans as results trickled in after the voting on Wednesday.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) officially announced the first result at 4 am.
While final results are expected in the coming hours, initial outcomes show that the PTI was emerging as the single largest party in the National Assembly.
"After a 22-year-long struggle, the almighty God has finally given me the chance to implement the manifesto I had dreamed up over two decades ago," Khan said in his first public address after the elections.
In his speech that was broadcast live via video link, Khan promised to make Pakistan's institutions stronger under which everyone will be held accountable.
"First, I will be subjected to accountability, then my ministers and so on. Today we are behind (other countries) because there is a separate system for those in power and a separate one for ordinary citizens," Khan said, as he promised to end the VIP culture and convert the existing PM House into an educational institution.
He also vowed to improve the governance and over come the economic challenges faced by Pakistan.
The two main parties -- PML-N and PPP -- have raised questions on the transparency of the vote counting process, alleging their polling agents were not allowed to verify vote counts as is mandated by law.
PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif, who is hoping to become the next prime minister after the jailing of his brother and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in a corruption case, rejected the election results, alleging 'blatant' rigging.
He did not say who he believes could have rigged the polls, but allegations of manipulating the elections have been made against the country's influential military.
Awami National Party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, Pak-Sarzameen Party, Muttahida Majlas-i-Amal and Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan also alleged that their polling agents were either ousted of the polling stations at the time of counting or denied certified results by the polling staff.
"Some five other parties including the PPP have raised the rigging issue in polls. After consulting them, I will announce the future course of action. Pakistan has suffered today," Sharif told journalists.
He has convened a meeting with other parties this evening to discuss the issue and formulate a common strategy.
"We will fight this injustice and use all options," he said, adding that there has been a 'blatant violation' of the mandate.
Bilawal Bhutto also raised questions over the credibility of the election commission. '24 hours & ECP cant give me lyari and larkana results. Can't explain discrepancies or delays,' the top PPP leader tweeted.
The ECP rejected the 'blatant' rigging allegations.
In an unusual press conference early on Thursday, Chief Election Commissioner Muhammad Raza Khan congratulated the people of Pakistan for participating in the election process.
He, however, acknowledged that the delay in announcement of election results has 'caused some annoyance'. He stressed the delay was on account of a new system -- Results Transmission System -- introduced by it.
Asked about the doubts and the allegations, he said: "We will prove ourselves that we did our job right."
"These elections were fair and we have not received any complaint. If anyone has proof, we will take action," he asserted.
Elections were also held yesterday for four provincial assemblies - Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
The provincial trends showed that the PTI was leading in 120 seats in Punjab followed by the PML-N with 119 seats in the provincial assembly of 299 members.
In Sindh, the PPP was heading towards a two-thirds majority in its traditional bastion. The party was leading in 72 seats according to the latest trends available for 113 of the provincial assembly's 131 seats.
In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the PTI was heading towards a two-thirds majority with its candidates leading in 67 seats. The KP assembly has 99 seats.
Balochistan was heading towards a hung assembly. Balochistan Awami Party was ahead in 12 seats while MMA was leading in 9. Balochistan National Party was leading in 8 seats.
The election marks the second democratic transition of power in the nation's 70-year history. The military has ruled Pakistan through various coups for nearly half of the country's history since independence in 1947.
The run up to the elections had seen a massive crackdown on the media and allegations that the military has secretly backed the campaign of Khan while targeting his political opponents.
The ECP was also criticised for deploying the Army both inside and outside of polling stations.
Controversy has also arisen over allowing militant groups to participate in the election. The leading among them are Mumbai-terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed-led banned Jamat-ud Dawa's candidates who suffered humiliating defeats.
The Pakistani media hailed the outcome of the general elections, saying it showed that the country is 'a peaceful democratic state' which defied all odds and paved the way for another successful democratic transition.
The Express Tribune whose front page headline read: 'PTI clinches victory as opponents cry foul', in its editorial said the mandate of the people should be respected.
'The country cannot afford to see the losing side embark on the protest route post-election the way the PTI had done the last time, given the numerous serious challenges it is faced with - both internally and externally,' the editorial said.
'Whosoever is elected to govern this 207-million-strong nation, what's important is that the results should be accepted and the mandate of the people respected,' it said.
The opinion piece further said a notable turnout of Pakistanis to exercise their franchise 'demonstrated the nation's strength' and showed the world 'that Pakistan is a peaceful democratic state which defied all odds and paved the way for another successful democratic transition'.
Another leading newspaper, Dawn, said Pakistanis have consistently and courageously demonstrated a commitment to the electoral process but it is too early to assess if the election commission was able to manage the voting process better than in previous elections.
In its editorial, the newspaper said, 'The roots of democracy include strengthening democratic institutions, but the commitment of the people to freely choosing their elected representatives is what truly binds the democratic process together.'
'The Pakistani citizen has consistently and courageously demonstrated a commitment to the electoral process, and democratic continuity permits that widespread sentiment to express itself. The Pakistani voter is deserving of respect and admiration,' it said.
The paper which displayed the headline 'PTI delivers knockout punch; six major parties cry foul' in its frontpage said, "Whichever parties or coalitions emerge victorious, they must approach politics with a more democratic and conciliatory spirit. For national stability, politics cannot be allowed to return to an era of open warfare."
The News International which headlined Khan's success as 'Imran bowls all out' has expressed doubts in the election process in its editorial.
'Predictions that the PTI would be the largest party and there would be a hung parliament have largely proven correct...The one question hanging over the elections is whether they were conducted fairly,' it said.
Hailing Khan as 'Man of the Match' in its frontpage, The Nation said, "The need of the hour is a strong government at the centre as a hung parliament entails deadlocks and friction in parliamentary processes."
"With the new extreme ideologies in the mix along with a juxtaposition of tenuous relationships of political parties and the judicio-military nexus, its remains to be seen exactly how hung the parliament will be and how that would translate into forming the future government body," its editorial said.