Although still to be officially confirmed as Pakistan’s election winner, Nawaz Sharif has already received messages of congratulations from the US and India and picked a finance minister to serve in his prospective cabinet.
In Karachi, the stock market swelled to hit a record high on hopes Sharif can revive the economy as he held talks on forming a new government.
“All of the results aren’t in yet; we’re still waiting on a numer of constituencies [to count votes] and certain provinces,” said Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Lahore.
“Whatever the case, Sharif has been meeting with senior figures from within the PML-N party and we understand talks are being held with independent candidates.”
PML-N spokesman Siddiqul Farooq said that Sharif’s party had secured a “comfortable majority” at the national level and a “two-thirds majority” in Punjab province, where Sharif’s younger brother Shahbaz would return as chief minister.
It was reported on Monday that Ishaq Dar, who served as finance minister in Sharif’s second administration and again briefly in 2008, would return to the job.
Dar had “all the facts and figures at his fingertips” and will present the budget in June for the next financial year starting on July 1, Farooq said.
The election commission is expected to finalise the results on Monday night.
Sharif will then have up to three weeks to prepare his government before the president summons the national assembly and new MPs are sworn in.
He will then be confirmed as leader of the house and as prime minister, allowing him formally to appoint his cabinet.
US President Barack Obama said Washington was ready to work with Islamabad “as equal partners” and welcomed the transition.
India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he hoped to chart “a new course” in relations.
Singh and Sharif have had “long discussions” since the election, Sharif said at a press conference on Monday. “Mutual fear needs to be addressed,” he said.
On the US relationship, Sharif said: “I think we have good relations with the United States of America. We need to listen to each other.”
In Karachi, the benchmark index of top 100 shares rose 1.6 percent to 20,232 points in early trade, surpassing the 20,000 mark for the first time as the election results defied analysts’ predictions of a weak parliament.
Economic revival hopes
Investors are hopeful of an economic revival under Sharif, whose privatisation policies earned him a good reputation among traders and industrialists during his two previous tenures in the 1990s.
“We have credibility on the economic front, the unprecedented surge in the stock market today is proof,” the PML-N spokesman said.
Cricket star Imran Khan, who promised a “tsunami” propelling him into power, appeared to have slipped into third place on 29 seats – still an achievement for a party which previously won only one seat in 2002.
Sharif will likely need only the estimated 27 independents and his proportion of seats reserved for women and minorities, to secure a majority in the first democratic transition in a country accustomed to long periods of military rule.
Imran Khan electrified the campaign with his calls for a new Pakistan, galvanising youths and the urban middle class in particular with promises to end corruption, introduce tax reform and stand up to the US.
His Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf looks likely to form a provincial government in the Taliban-hit northwest, but Khan says he will go into opposition at the national level.
“God willing, we will demonstrate the best opposition in the assembly. The strongest power of a democracy is a strong opposition, which was not there in Pakistan unfortunately for the past 10 years,” he said on Sunday.
In a televised statement from the hospital bed where he is laid up with a fractured spine following a fall at a rally, he also alleged vote-rigging.
Commenting on a possible coalition, Sharif said on Monday that he is “not against” parties working together, “but as far as Islamabad is concerned we are ourselves in a position to form our own government … all those who share our vision we will be happy to work with them.”