Gen. Asim Munir  Pakistan
© CopyrightGen. Asim Munir praised the successful conduct of Pakistan's bitterly contested elections. The military's favoured party failed to win a majority amid a swell of support for jailed Imran Khan
Pakistan's army chief praised the successful conduct of bitterly contested elections and called on politicians to show "maturity and unity" after the military's favoured party failed to win a majority.

Party leaders began coalition horse-trading after a swell of support for jailed Imran Khan prevented the army-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) from winning.

With results still coming in, Mr Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party continued to claim it had been cheated out of seats by systematic rigging.

Imran Khan Pakistan
© FAYAZ AZIZ/ReutersSupporters of Pakistani former Prime Minister Imran Khan's party protesting on February 10
Britain, America and the European Union have all each expressed concerns about the conduct of the poll and urged a probe into reported irregularities.

Comment: The situation is such that, if the West is happy with the winner, it's unlikely they won.

The country now potentially faces weeks of further turmoil as alliances are thrashed out and results disputed in court.

The surprisingly strong showing for Mr Khan's candidates, despite the former cricketer being in prison, is a sharp blow to the army, which had thrown its weight behind the PML-N's Nawaz Sharif, analysts said.

Comment: It's only surprising to Western journalists who are clueless about the situation in Pakistan where they literally had to throw Khan in jail on trumped up charges in a failed attempt to avert his election win.

Gen Asim Munir, chief of the army staff, said: "Elections are not a zero-sum competition of winning and losing, but an exercise to determine the mandate of the people.

"As the people of Pakistan have reposed their combined trust in the constitution of Pakistan, it is now incumbent upon all political parties to reciprocate the same with political maturity and unity.

"The nation needs stable hands and a healing touch to move on from the politics of anarchy and polarisation, which does not suit a progressive country of 250 million people."

A lengthy crackdown against Mr Khan's party has put much of the leadership either in prison, or in hiding. Mr Khan has been jailed under an avalanche of criminal cases he says are politically motivated.

Meanwhile, his candidates have been harried and forced to run as independents, denying them the cricket bat polling symbol that made his party immediately recognisable to illiterate voters.

Yet despite such difficulties, by Saturday evening independent candidates had won 100 seats. All but a handful are thought to be loyal to Mr Khan. The PML-N had taken 71 seats and the Pakistan People's Party had 54.

An editorial in Dawn, the country's oldest English newspaper, concluded: "It seems the only thing the state was able to achieve through its persistent victimisation of the PTI was to turn it into a symbol of resistance for the people."

A senior aide to Mr Khan on Saturday said the party would try to form a government. Mr Sharif has also said he will try to form a government.