The post of prime minister is much stronger than that of the presidency in Pakistan, which is occupied by a member of the rival Pakistan People's Party, Asif Ali Zardari. The PPP suffered a crushing defeat in the election, as Pakistanis expressed unhappiness with its performance running the government for the past five years. The party looks set to get only around a quarter of the seats won by the PML-N.
Sharif's party will have to run most legislation through the Senate, where the PPP still holds a much higher number of seats and will do so until 2015. That means he will have to find some way to cooperate with his rival.
The PML-N weathered a strong challenge in the election from former cricket star Imran Khan, whose criticism of traditional politicians energized the country's youth. Khan, who suffered a horrific fall last week and severely injured his back, released a video from his hospital bed a day after the election claiming there was vote-rigging in Karachi and Punjab.
European Union election observers said Monday that they saw some "serious problems" in Karachi, and Pakistan's election commission said it was investigating. The commission has already said it would re-do the vote in 40 polling stations in one constituency in Karachi.
The Free and Fair Election Network, a local monitoring group with thousands of observers, has described the balloting in Punjab as "relatively fair."
Sharif urged Khan to drop his claims of vote rigging Monday, saying "I think we should all show sportsman's spirit and accept the results of the elections."
Sharif spoke with reporters at his palatial estate in the rural town of Raiwind outside Lahore. The estate is filled with acres of plush lawns and manicured gardens in which scores of majestic peacocks roam freely. The inside of his house is opulently decorated in a style reminiscent of Louis XIV and features two stuffed lions — the symbol of Sharif's party — at the entrance to his living room.
Sharif's victory in the election represented a remarkable comeback. He was toppled in a coup in 1999 by then-army chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf during his second stint as prime minister and sent into exile in Saudi Arabia for years. He returned in 2007 and ended up serving as the main opposition leader in the country.
Sharif's history with the military has led some observers to predict clashes with the army once he takes office. The army is considered the strongest institution in the country, although it has pulled back from overt interference in domestic politics in recent years.
That allowed the country to reach a historic milestone. The recent election marked the first time a civilian government completed its full five-year term and transferred power in democratic elections.
Sharif sought to play down his perceived enmity toward the army, saying he only blamed Musharraf for the coup, not the entire service.
"I think the rest of the army resented Mr. Musharraf's decision," said Sharif. "So I don't hold the rest of the army responsible for that."
In an ironic twist, Musharraf is currently under house arrest in the country after returning from self-imposed exile, and Sharif will need to decide whether to press treason charges against him in the Supreme Court.
Associated Press writer Rebecca Santana contributed to this report from Islamabad.
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