ISLAMABAD - Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared victory following a historic election marred by violence Saturday, a remarkable comeback for a leader once toppled in a military coup and sent into exile.
The 63-year-old Sharif, who has twice served as premier, touted his success after unofficial, partial vote counts showed his Pakistan Muslim League-N party with an overwhelming lead. The party weathered a strong campaign by former cricket star Imran Khan that energized Pakistan's young people.
Sharif expressed a desire to work with all parties to solve the country's problems in a victory speech given to his supporters in the eastern city of Lahore as his lead in the national election became apparent based on vote counts announced by Pakistan state TV.
Former Prime Minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N party Nawaz Sharif waves to his supporters at a party office in Lahore, Pakistan, Saturday. Sharif declared victory following a historic election marred by violence Saturday, as unofficial, partial vote counts showed his party with an overwhelming lead.
The results, which need to be officially confirmed, indicated Sharif's party has an overwhelming lead but would fall short of winning a majority of the 272 directly elected national assembly seats. That means he would have to put together a ruling coalition, which could make it more difficult to tackle the country's many problems.
"I appeal to all to come sit with me at the table so that this nation can get rid of this curse of power cuts, inflation and unemployment," Sharif said.
Despite attacks against candidates, party workers and voters that killed 29 people Saturday, Pakistanis turned out in large numbers to elect the national and provincial assemblies. The high participation was a sign of Pakistanis' desire for change after years of hardship under the outgoing government, and it offered a sharp rebuke to Taliban militants and others who have tried to derail the election with attacks that have killed more than 150 people in recent weeks.
"Our country is in big trouble," said Mohammad Ali, a shopkeeper who voted in Lahore. "Our people are jobless. Our business is badly affected. We are dying every day."
The vote marked the first time a civilian government has completed its full five-year term and transferred power in democratic elections in a country that has experienced three coups and constant political instability since it was established in 1947.
The election was being watched closely by the United States, which relies on the nuclear-armed country of 180 million people for help fighting Islamic militants and negotiating an end to the war in neighboring Afghanistan.