PAKISTANI former prime minister Nawaz Sharif last night began talks to form a new government after claiming leadership victory in the national elections.
Sharif, 63, may not have won enough seats to rule on his own but has built up enough momentum to avoid having to form a coalition with his main rivals, former cricketer Imran Khan’s Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
The steel magnate held off a challenge from Khan, who had hoped to break decades of dominance by Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and the PPP, led by the Bhutto family.
The two parties have formed governments whenever the military, the most powerful institution in the nuclear-armed nation, has allowed civilian rule.
Unofficial results from Saturday’s election yesterday suggested a big lead for the PML-N, though Sharif may need support from other parties to govern.
Imran Khan, who could be the main opposition leader, said he was pleased with the high turnout but disappointed about reports of rigging. An election commission spokesman said turnout had been around 60 per cent, compared to 44 per cent in 2008.
Sharif, who was toppled in a 1999 military coup, jailed and exiled, was twice PM in the 1990s.
An advocate of free-market economics, he is likely to pursue privatisation and deregulation to revive flagging growth. He has said Pakistan should stand on its own two feet but may need to seek a another bailout from the International Monetary Fund to avoid a balance of payments crisis.
US President Barack Obama congratulated Pakistanis for the successful election and said the United States would work with the new government as an equal partner.
“By conducting competitive campaigns, freely exercising your democratic rights, and persevering despite intimidation by violent extremists, you have affirmed a commitment to democratic rule,” he stated.