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FILE PHOTO: Labourers, who set up the venue, sit under a wall with a billboard displaying a photo of Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), political party, as they listen to him during a campaign rally ahead of general elections in Karachi, Pakistan July 22, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro/File Photo

(reuters_tickers)

By Saad Sayeed

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A staunch ally of cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan was elected speaker of Pakistan's lower house on Wednesday, a key position to support Khan's legislative agenda after he won a disputed election last month.

Asad Qaiser, a Khan loyalist, defeated Pakistan Peoples Party candidate Syed Khurshid Shah, who was backed by lawmakers from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) that held power last term. Qaiser won by 176 votes to 146.

Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party won 116 of the 272 elected seats in the National Assembly, which is expected to vote in the former sportsman as prime minister on Friday.

A swearing-in ceremony is scheduled for Saturday.

"Mr. Asad Qaiser has been declared to have been elected as speaker of the national assembly of Pakistan," said outgoing speaker Ayaz Sadiq.

Qaiser previously served as the speaker of the provincial assembly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from 2013 to 2018. He was elected to the National Assembly for the first time in last month's polls.

In a raucous ceremony, protesting PML-N lawmakers shouted "give honour to the vote" after Qaiser was announced as the new speaker.

They also chanted the name of PML-N founder Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted from office in 2017 and who was jailed ahead of the July polls.

The PML-N and PPP, two parties which have dominated Pakistan's politics for decades, have both called into question the fairness of last month's election, citing irregularities after polls closed.

They also allege Khan's PTI path to power was enabled by clandestine assistance from Pakistan's powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan for about half its history since independence in 1947. The army denies playing a role in the elections.

Following the elections, the PPP and PML-N said they would join forces to field Sharif's brother and PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif as their candidate for prime minister in parliament but the alliance, which includes several smaller parties, is unlikely to derail Khan's election.

(Writing by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Drazen Jorgic and Darren Schuettler)

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Reuters