ISLAMABAD, Feb 29 — Lawmakers were sworn in during the first sitting of Pakistan’s new parliament today, three weeks after an election marred by widespread allegations of rigging.

Pakistan’s February 8 poll took place with ex-prime minister Imran Khan jailed and barred from running, and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party targeted by a campaign of arrests and censorship.

Khan’s followers defied the crackdown to win more seats than any other party but the military-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is set to shut them out of power with a coalition government.

According to the coalition agreement, former premier Shehbaz Sharif — who ousted Khan in a 2022 no-confidence vote — will be elected prime minister again by new lawmakers in the coming days.

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Parliamentarians began arriving at the 336-seat National Assembly in Islamabad on Thursday morning and took their oaths of office in unison around 11.30am (2.30pm Malaysian time).

PTI members were forced to run as independents in the election but some arrived at parliament carrying portraits of Khan, brandishing them in defiance as Sharif and other PML-N leaders entered the chamber.

“In democracy, the parliament is a sacred place,” PTI’s acting chief Gohar Ali Khan told reporters as he arrived to be sworn in.

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“Those who don’t have public trust and don’t have the mandate should not be sitting here.”

Gohar held aloft a poster reading “Release Imran Khan” as he signed the register of parliamentarians but the moment was omitted from state TV broadcasts as cameras cut away.

The Sharif family’s PML-N has agreed to govern with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) run by the dynasty of slain ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, as well as several smaller factions.

In return, the PPP has been promised the office of president for their patriarch and Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari.

Cabinet positions have yet to be announced.

Analysts regard the broad alliance as a shaky enterprise, facing overlapping economic and security crises plaguing the nation of more than 240 million.

Monitors have also warned the PML-N coalition may suffer from a perceived lack of legitimacy by portions of the public sceptical over whether their votes were counted.

Despite PTI-aligned candidates exceeding expectations, Imran Khan claims the election was brazenly rigged to prevent his party’s landslide return to power.

Islamabad cut mobile internet signal nationwide on election day, citing security reasons but declining to give specifics. Results were also delayed, further stoking rigging claims. — AFP