RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. We begin this morning with election news out of Pakistan. Counting is still underway in yesterday's national poll, but the former two-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said he is ready to form the central government for the third time. Partial unofficial results show his Muslim League emerging as the clear victor in the election where violence left dozens dead. Millions of voters defied militant threats and turned out to the polls. They ousted the incumbent Pakistan Peoples Party after five years of rule, which was marked by all kinds of corruption allegations and a failing economy. But as the PPP faltered, former cricket star Imran Khan surged. NPR's Julie McCarthy has been following the election. She joins us from Lahore. Julie, first off, remind us of who Nawaz Sharif is, this new apparent leader of Pakistan.
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: The last time Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister was in 1999. Rachel, that's when he was overthrown in a coup by the army chief then, Pervez Musharraf. Sharif went into exile for about a decade in Saudi Arabia and he's got close ties with the royal family there. And the Saudis could be expected to exert greater influence in Pakistan now. But Sharif is likely to face a very tough situation in the National Assembly when it comes to formulating foreign policy. He'll face, among other people, Imran Khan, the former cricket star, who's very vocal against U.S. drones and the so-called war on terror.
MARTIN: Julie, Pakistan has been beset by a very complicated insurgency and militants. How would a Nawaz Sharif government handle that?
MCCARTHY: Well, you know, there's a dichotomy here. On the one hand, you've got Sharif wanting to talk to the Pakistan Taliban. And he has associations with this banned group, the Sepah-e-Sahaba. That's a virulently anti-Shia outfit that has targeted the Shia population in Pakistan. But Sharif is a pragmatist and analysts say he's going to want to have good relations with the United States. He knows that the Pakistani economy is heavily dependent on international aid. But, you know, away from the complexities of foreign policy, the ordinary citizen here in Pakistan is much more interested in seeing him fix the energy crisis and the broken economy. So, he's going to have a very full plate.
MARTIN: Imran Khan was a popular candidate, as I understand it. He really attracted a lot of very young Pakistanis. How well did he end up doing at the end of the day?
MCCARTHY: Well, you know, those people who gravitated to his campaign certainly seemed to have come out to vote. The Election Commission estimates 60 percent turnout. That is huge for Pakistan. The last election was only 40 percent. And Imran Khan really can be credited for energizing the electorate. He went after corruption, he called for deep reforms in education and health care. And now his party - the PTI or Movement for Justice - which was virtually unknown, it was nothing two years ago - is emerging as the second biggest vote-getter in this election.
The parties he was up against, the traditional parties, have been around for decades. And he took advantage of voter anger at endemic corruption and grueling power outages, and just a general alienation of a lot of voters to put his party on the map. But, you know, Rachel, he wasn't the game changer that he wanted to be. He didn't do as well in the big electoral prize of the Punjab Province. For example, he was running in Lahore. He didn't make it in Lahore but he made it in other places and he'll be in the parliament. But the fact that, you know, the Sharif's Muslim League, which really runs the Punjab, poured billions of rupees before the election into development projects and computer giveaways to young people - all in recent months - didn't help Khan. It was a pretty bald maneuver to stop him.
MARTIN: OK. So, what's happens now? I imagine there will there be a lot of haggling to actually form a government of some kind?
MCCARTHY: If Sharif wins a majority, you know, he could bypass haggling over a coalition and get a legislation approved on his own. But for big things, crucial things, like trying to amend the constitution, he needs two-thirds vote. And in the past, he did try to do that. He changed the constitution to abolish the power of the president to dissolve the Parliament as a way to consolidate power in the hands of the prime minister, which he now intends to be.
MARTIN: Lastly, Julie, do people see this as a legitimate election? How fair was it?
MCCARTHY: Well, no question it was flawed, Rachel. You know, there was violence and poll officials were taken hostage in Karachi. There was alleged vote rigging and lot of confusion, bad management, polling stations ran out of ballots, polling officials didn't show up. In one instance, the chief justice of the High Court in Sindh waited for hours in Karachi to vote, along with millions of others. And illiteracy disenfranchised people, they came to the polls, they didn't know what they were doing, they were in the wrong place. They were supposed to be able to text the election commission. They didn't know how to do that, so they just lost out.
But having said that, Rachel, this isn't Sweden. Pakistan is still trying to strengthen its civilian governance, which is shaky. Women were barred in some of the more conservative areas of the country from voting. So, there's a ways to go before there's universal suffrage here. But there was an election, which is an accomplishment.
MARTIN: NPR's Julie McCarthy from Pakistan. Thanks so much, Julie.
MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.