A supporter of Pakistan Muslim League-N party sits on his motorcycle decorated with posters of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as he and other his others celebrate their party’s victory in the parliamentary election outside the party’s headquarter in Lahore, Pakistan, Sunday, May 12, 2013. Sharif looked set Sunday to return to power for a third term, with an overwhelming election tally that just weeks ago seemed out of reach for a man who had been ousted by a coup and was exiled abroad before clawing his way back as an opposition leader. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)
LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif looked poised to return to office with a resounding election victory — a mandate that could make it easier to tackle the country’s daunting problems, including growing power outages, weak economic growth and shaky government finances.
Questions remain, however, about Sharif’s stance on another key issue: violent Islamic extremism. Critics have accused his party of being soft on radicals because it hasn’t cracked down on militant groups in its stronghold of Punjab province. The United States has pushed Pakistan for years to take stronger action against Islamic militants whose fighters stage cross-border attacks against American troops in Afghanistan.
As unofficial returns rolled in Sunday, a day after the election, state TV estimates put Sharif close to the majority in the national assembly needed to govern outright for the next five years. Even if he falls short of that threshold, independent candidates almost certain to swing in Sharif’s favor would give his Pakistan Muslim League-N party a ruling majority.
That would put the 63-year-old Sharif in a much stronger position than the outgoing Pakistan People’s Party, which ruled for five years with a weak coalition that was often on the verge of collapse.
Pakistan suffers from a growing energy crisis, with some areas experiencing power outages for up to 18 hours a day. That has seriously hurt the economy, pushing growth below 4 percent a year. The country needs a growth rate of twice that to provide jobs for its expanding population of 180 million.