Vote counting in an election marred by allegations of fraud and militant violence has been tediously slow, yet from the outset cricket star Imran Khan and his party have maintained a commanding lead.
Pakistan woke to electoral chaos on Thursday with the outgoing ruling party and others denouncing widespread "blatant rigging" in the pivotal general election and rejecting unofficial, partial results suggesting victory for former cricket champion Imran Khan.
Results were still being tallied on Thursday morning, hours after Khan's supporters took to the streets to celebrate victory in an election which opponents have said the powerful military rigged in his favour.
The Election Commission of Pakistan dismissed allegations of manipulation, blaming the delay on glitches in new, untested counting software.
"These elections were 100 percent fair and transparent. Why don't you think the five political parties might be wrong?" said Chief Election Commissioner Sardar Muhammad Raza early Thursday as the outcry grew.
Raza did not say when election authorities would be in a position to announce the results.
Local media said less than half the votes had been counted more than 13 hours after polls closed, an unprecedented delay that has fuelled widespread fears over the legitimacy of the exercise.
Based on a 47% vote count, Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf was in the lead with 114 of the 272 directly-elected National Assembly seats. His party would need to win 137 seats for an outright majority.
Ousted prime minister's Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz followed with 64 seats and Bilawal Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party followed with 42 seats, according to English-language newspaper Dawn.
The party of Khan's jailed chief rival, ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, called the count an assault on democracy in the nuclear-armed, Muslim country which has a history of military rule.
I have not seen the kind of malpractices done today after the polling time expired in my whole political career. We heard complaints from the whole country that Form 45 was not being given & the polling agents of the party were driven out.— Shehbaz Sharif (@CMShehbaz) July 25, 2018
The PML-N and PPP both said their monitors in many voting centres had not received the official notifications of the precinct's results, but instead got handwritten tallies that they could not verify.
"It is a sheer rigging. The way the people's mandate has blatantly been insulted, it is intolerable," PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif told a news conference as the counting continued.
"We totally reject this result," he said. "It is a big shock to Pakistan's democratic process."
The PPP also complained that its polling agents were asked to leave during the vote count in a number of voting centres.
"This is the warning bell of a serious threat," said PPP senator Sherry Rehman. "This whole election could be null and void, and we don't want this."
TRT World's Arabella Munro reports.
Any potential delays in forming a government would be worrisome, as Pakistan faces a mounting economic crisis that is likely to require a bailout by the International Monetary Fund and worsening relations with on-off ally the United States.
ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob said told reporters early on Thursday counting had been delayed by technical failures in an electronic reporting system and the tallying was now being conducted manually. The results had been due by Wednesday 2100 GMT.
"There's no conspiracy, nor any pressure in delay of the results. The delay is being caused because the result transmission system has collapsed," Yaqoob said.
He said he could not set an exact deadline when the full results would be released but it would be as soon as possible.
Political analyst and columnist Mosharraf Zaidi joins TRT World from Islamabad to discuss Pakistan's crucial election.
Azeema Cheema joins TRT World from Islamabad for the latest updates on Pakistan's election.
Khan's camp remains increasingly confident, although it still appeared likely to fall short of the 137 seats needed for a majority in the National Assembly.
However, coalitions with smaller parties and absorbing successful independents would be all PTI needs as it seems poised to win more seats as votes are being counted.
Kamran Yusuf joins TRT World from Islamabad.
Khan's party spokesman, Fawad Chaudhry, tweeted "Congratulations to the nation on a new Pakistan! Prime Minister Imran Khan", although his party has officially held off on declaring victory.
His ex-wife Jemima Goldsmith congratulated Khan on its victory on Twitter while urging him to hold on to the reason he became a politician.
22 years later, after humiliations, hurdles and sacrifices, my sons’ father is Pakistan’s next PM. It’s an incredible lesson in tenacity, belief & refusal to accept defeat. The challenge now is to remember why he entered politics in the 1st place. Congratulations @ImranKhanPTI— Jemima Goldsmith (@Jemima_Khan) July 26, 2018
Wednesday's voting was marred by a suicide bombing that killed 31 people near a polling station in Quetta, capital of the southwestern province of Balochistan.
Daesh claimed responsibility.
Several incidents of violence were reported from Balochistan on Election Day as well as from other provinces.
Second civilian transfer
This election will mark only the second civilian transfer of power in Pakistan's 71-year history.
But campaigning was plagued for months by allegations the powerful armed forces have been trying to tilt the race in Khan's favour after falling out with the outgoing ruling party of Sharif, who was jailed on corruption charges this month.
The PML-N, which came to power in a landslide 2013 vote, sought to cast this election as a referendum on democracy, saying it was campaigning to protect the "sanctity of the vote," a reference to a history of political interference by the military.
About 371,000 soldiers had been stationed at polling stations across the country, nearly five times the number deployed at the last election in 2013.
Khan has staunchly denied allegations by PML-N that he was getting help from the military, which has ruled Pakistan for about half of its history and still sets key security and foreign policy in the nuclear-armed nation. The army has also dismissed allegations of meddling in the election.
Khan has promised an "Islamic welfare state" and cast his populist campaign as a battle to topple a predatory political elite hindering development in the impoverished mostly Muslim nation of 208 million, where the illiteracy rate hovers above 40 percent.
Any delay in forming a government could further imperil Pakistan's economy, with a looming currency crisis expected to force the new government to turn to the IMF for Pakistan's second bailout since 2013. PTI has not ruled out seeking succour from China, Islamabad's closest ally.