ISLAMABAD -- Veteran politician Nawaz Sharif appears headed toward forming Pakistan’s next government following elections notable for a high turnout in the face of Taliban violence.
Unofficial results and projections on May 12 indicated that Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League is heading toward a majority in parliament.
Based on current predictions, his party looks set to secure nearly 130 of the 272 directly elected seats in national assembly while also gaining a number of other seats reserved for women and religious minorities.
Electoral officials said turnout in the May 11 elections was nearly 60 percent of some 86 million voters. In the 2008 elections, turnout was just 44 percent.
Around 20 people were reported killed in a series of attacks, but the vote has been hailed as a milestone marking the first time in Pakistani history that an elected civilian government completed a full term and handed power to another administration through elections.
Pakistan's military has ruled for approximately half the period since the country’s independence in 1947, staging coups three times. Despite the latest period of civilian rule, the military is still considered the country’s most powerful institution.
Initial indications suggested Sharif’s Muslim League party will fall short of securing a majority in the National Assembly and will need to form a coalition.
If he succeeds in a forming a government, Sharif would embark on a third term as prime minister. His party is regarded as having a pro-business stance.
Unofficial results suggested that former cricket hero Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) movement also received strong support, heralding the arrival of a potent young faction.
The Pakistan Peoples Party and the Awami National Party -- the outgoing coalition partners -- appeared to be heading for major losses amid voter unhappiness over their handling of the country during the past five years.
WATCH: Polls across Pakistan stayed open one hour after originally scheduled because of high turnout. Some constituencies in the violence-ridden city of Karachi were given an additional two hours.
In a victory speech in Lahore, Sharif called for cooperation among political forces to battle Pakistan's many problems.
"For the sake of the nation, for your sake, for the sake of Pakistan's 180 million people, and in order to end this this curse of power cuts, inflation and unemployment, I want to ask them (opponents) to come and sit with us."
The vote was held amid widespread discontent among Pakistanis over years of ineffective governance, corruption, chronic power shortages, and economic decline in the nuclear-armed nation.
WATCH: Bomb blast hits Karachi
On May 12, Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a congratulatory statement saying that the vote shows the people of Pakistan "want to move forward in democracy." He said he hoped the new government will "provide the ground for peace and brotherhood in Afghanistan."
The new government is expected to have to negotiate a multi-billion-dollar bailout with the International Monetary Fund to stave off collapse.
Pakistan is also challenged by regular attacks from Taliban militants who want to topple the government, as well as sectarian and separatist movements.
Islamabad is also under pressure from the United States to clamp down on militants and use its influence to help Washington secure a settlement to the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan.
Sharif, 63, is a wealthy steel magnate from Punjab Province. He has been a leading player in the Pakistani political establishment for years, alongside the Pakistan Peoples Party of current President Asif Ali Zardari and the slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Sharif was in power when Pakistan tested its first nuclear weapon in 1998. He was toppled in a 1999 military coup by former army chief General Pervez Musharraf, and spent years in exile in Saudi Arabia before returning to Pakistan in 2007. His movement came in second in the 2008 elections.
PHOTO GALLERY: Pakistanis get out the vote
In addition to choosing members of the 342-seat National Assembly, voters elected four provincial assemblies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan.
Officials said more than 600,000 security personnel had been deployed to protect the vote.
The Taliban had condemned the elections as un-Islamic, and pre-election violence claimed the lives of some 130 people.
With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters