Pakistan vote: Nawaz Sharif in talks on new government

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Media captionSupporters of former PM Nawaz Sharif have been celebrating in Pakistan

Pakistani ex-PM Nawaz Sharif has been holding talks with party colleagues on forming a government, after claiming victory in parliamentary elections.

Unofficial results suggest a big lead for Mr Sharif's Muslim League (PML-N), though he may need support to govern.

Former cricketer Imran Khan, who could be the main opposition leader, said he was pleased with the high turnout but disappointed about reports of rigging.

US President Barack Obama and India's prime minister congratulated Mr Sharif.

The ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) seems to have been badly beaten.

It was one of several secular parties unable to campaign freely due to Taliban attacks.

Most of the remaining PPP seats look likely to be in its heartland of Sindh province.

Saturday's election should pave the way for the country's first transition from one elected government to another.

The poll was generally seen as having passed off successfully, but violence on Saturday claimed at least 24 lives.

An election commission spokesman said turnout had been around 60%. In 2008 it was 44%.

President Obama congratulated Pakistan on successfully completing the election and said he looked forward to working with the government that emerged.

He welcomed the "historic, peaceful and transparent transfer of civilian power" but stopped short of naming Mr Sharif.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he hoped for a "new course" in relations between the two countries.

"PM extends his congratulations to Mr. Nawaz Sharif and his party for their emphatic victory in Pakistan's elections," he said on his Twitter account.

He invited Mr Sharif to go to India "at a mutually convenient time".

'Path of democracy'

Mr Sharif is expected to become prime minister for the third time, his last period in office ending 14 years ago in a military coup followed by his trial and exile.

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge in Islamabad says he is already getting down to business, starting work on putting together a government.

PML-N officials said he was holding talks with some independent MPs to work out cabinet positions.

Our correspondent says that he is set to take over the reins of power at a time when most Pakistanis are preoccupied by the challenges of daily life amid lengthy power blackouts.

His strategy for tackling militant violence will be closely scrutinised at home and by international partners, he adds.

Even if his PML-N does not have an outright majority, its projected margin of victory suggests it will be in a much stronger position than the PPP was at the head of the outgoing coalition.

Mr Sharif should at least not need to seek the support of his main rivals, the PPP and Imran Khan's Movement for Justice (PTI), analysts say.

Soon after polls closed, he claimed victory and joined supporters celebrating in his stronghold, the north-eastern city of Lahore.

Muslim League voter Asma Usmani in Islamabad praised the poll.

"I was expecting that PML-N would win because I voted for them. These were very fair elections and the election commission did very well," she said.

Meanwhile Mr Khan spoke publicly for the first time since the election. He is in hospital with a fractured spine after a fall at an election rally last Tuesday.

"I congratulate the entire nation for taking part in such a massive democratic process. We are moving forward on the path of democracy," he said.

"Now there is awareness among the people of Pakistan that their fate is in their hands."

He praised Pakistan's women for voting in unprecedented numbers, and said he would "issue a white paper" in response to allegations of vote-rigging by members of his party.

But some of Mr Khan's supporters said the vote was rigged against them.

A PTI spokesman said the PML-N had been involved in large-scale rigging in parts of Lahore, and many women were not allowed to vote.

"These can't be called fair elections," said one supporter, businessman Bilal Saleem.

"PTI should have got more seats in Punjab. It was Imran Khan versus Punjab political machinery."

But PML-N's election officer denied the allegations.

"We don't go to these levels," Amna Malik said. "We are here to create change in Pakistan and rule out corruption."

Meanwhile Election Commission head Sher Afghan denied that anyone was intimidated, threatened or prevented from voting, adding that any formal complaint would be investigated.

Taliban threat

Official results are coming in slowly, but projections put Mr Sharif's party ahead in more than 115 of the 272 directly elected parliamentary seats.

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Media captionImran Khan's supporters have been dancing in the streets in Peshawar

Mr Khan looks to be on course to win a big victory in a constituency in the city of Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

The PTI looks set to be the largest party in the provincial assembly in the troubled north-western KP province, plagued by a conflict between security forces and militants.

President Asif Ali Zardari's PPP is in a race for second place with the PTI, but both seem likely to win fewer than 40 seats.

The Pakistani Taliban threatened to carry out suicide attacks ahead of the election.

In the run-up, more than 100 people died in election-related violence.

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