Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister whose government was overthrown by a military coup more than a decade ago, appears to be back on top in Pakistan, election officials said Sunday.
According to unofficial results in Pakistan's violence-marred election, Sharif's party looks to have won most of the seats in the National Assembly. It won 16 of the 23 seats in the lower house, election officials said.
Imran Khan, candidate for the Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) party, said the elections were rigged.
"Police (were) used, and how the -- the staff of the Election Commission were used," he said. "And unfortunately it's because the provincial governments were in power right up till 20 days before the elections -- so they had plenty of time to place their people."
Still, democracy moved forward, he said.
"But I'm very optimistic that the foundation of what we call the new Pakistan has been laid," he said. "Pakistan will never be the same again. ... Because of the youth participation and female participation, we have seen incredible scenes at this -- vibrancy at this -- in the elections."
His party won four seats in the lower house, election officials said.
Further election results were not immediately available.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the election a historic democratic step.
"The Pakistani people stood up resiliently to threats by violent extremists," he said. "We'll be working with the new government to advance shared interests including a peaceful, more prosperous and stable future for Pakistan and the region."
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tweeted his congratulations to Sharif and the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz party on their "emphatic victory."
Saturday's voting saw bursts of deadly violence aimed at polling stations that failed to deter Pakistanis keen to have their say in landmark national and provincial elections.
Voter turnout was nearly 60%, the chief election commissioner said early Sunday. Many were voting for the first time.
The national election marks the first transition between civilian governments in the nation's 66-year history.
In its short existence, Pakistan has experienced three military coups and been ruled by generals for half its life. It remains mired in political turmoil.
In March, the democratically elected government finished serving a full five-year term, paving the way for the elections.
Street parties erupted in the cities of Lahore and Peshawar early Sunday, with hundreds of people celebrating even before the results of the vote were in.
In his stronghold of Lahore, Sharif said he was confident his party will form the next government. He said he hopes his party won enough seats to form a government on its own but that he is willing to work with others to solve the country's problems.
The Election Commission extended polling hours in some constituencies in the southern city of Karachi, where there were complaints about the vote.
The Election Commission secretary, Ishtiak Ahmed Khan, told a news conference the election was free and fair across much of the country, despite the problems in Karachi.
Aside from claims of irregularities, four blasts hit Karachi as people voted, killing 14 people and wounding dozens. Across the country, 29 people were killed in Election Day violence.
Despite pre-election attacks, voters lined up at dawn at polling stations nationwide, eager to send off the caretaker government put in place in March.
"This is the first time I am voting and I am 60; I want change," said Shaheen Khan, who was at a polling station in Karachi, the nation's largest city. "There were thousands of people when I came. ... The queue was so long, people in wheelchairs and crutches all waiting to vote."
Waits of three hours or more were reported at some polling stations. Election officials also reported delays in opening at some polls, the official Associated Press of Pakistan news agency reported.
A statement from the office of interim Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso thanked the people of Pakistan for "coming out in huge numbers" to vote, as well as everyone involved in participating in and organizing the elections.