Pakistan's two main political parties that joined forces to oust Imran Khan as prime minister in 2022 said Tuesday they would form a new coalition to rule the country, after an election last week failed to produce a decisive winner.
With the army-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) short of votes to win a ruling majority, it said it was partnering with Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) as well as a handful of smaller parties to form the next government.
Loyalists of Khan, jailed on corruption charges, won the most seats as independent candidates in Thursday's election.
"The parties present here are almost two-thirds of the house that has been elected," said Shehbaz Sharif, president of the PML-N, alongside leaders of the PPP and two other groups, and representatives from two more.
After the press conference, an aide said Sharif would lead the country.
"The PML-N's candidate for prime minister is Shehbaz Sharif," party spokeswoman Marriyum Aurangzeb told Geo News.
Sharif said the PML-N was even willing to talk to Khan to include his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party in the next government.
"Forget and forgive; forgive and forget -- come let's join hands for the betterment of the country," he said.
"Sacrifice self interests, set the issue of egos aside."
- Khan rules out cooperation -
The press conference followed a hectic day of behind-the-scenes negotiations and even denials by PPP that they were ready to join forces with PML-N.
Earlier, speaking during a court appearance at Adiala Jail where he has spent much of his time since his arrest in August, Khan ruled out cooperation.
"We will neither sit with the PML-N nor with the PPP," he told a handful of reporters covering a procedural hearing at the prison outside the capital Islamabad.
The press conference by PML-N and PPP left a lot of unanswered questions about who would fill key positions in the next government, and made clear there was still much negotiating to be done.
Sharif, who served as prime minister in the last government before the national assembly was dissolved, had said during the press conference that he wanted his older brother, three-time premier Nawaz Sharif, to return to office.
But Aurangzeb later said on X, the former Twitter, that the elder Sharif wanted his brother to lead the country.
"We have decided today that we will get together and form the government to lift Pakistan from difficulty," Asif Ali Zardari, PPP co-chairman and former Pakistan president told the press conference.
Candidates loyal to Khan took most of the seats in the polls, defying a months-long crackdown that crippled campaigning and forced them to run as independents.
But despite independents winning 101 national assembly seats, a government can only be formed by a recognised party, or coalition of parties, so they would have to join another group to become an effective bloc.
There were widespread allegations of vote-rigging and result manipulation after authorities switched off the nation's mobile phone network on election day, ostensibly on security grounds, and the count took more than 24 hours.
"We are going to challenge the election rigging in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and we will consider the alliance later," Khan said Tuesday.
Earlier, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of Zardari and assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, said he would like to see his father become president again.
"And I am not saying this because he is my father. I am saying this because the country is in a huge crisis at the moment and if anyone has the capacity to douse this fire, it is Asif Ali Zardari," he said.