ISLAMABAD - A senior official in Pakistan has admitted to election rigging amid protests breaking out across the country over claims that its general election results were unfair.

The confessional statement throws further questions over the legitimacy of the 8 February elections, which were marred by controversies and allegations of rigging in Pakistan.

Commissioner Rawalpindi Liaqat Ali Chatta told reporters that authorities in Rawalpindi, Punjab province, changed the results of independent candidates – referring to candidates backed by the former prime minister Imran Khan’s party – who were leading with a margin of more than 70,000 votes.

Chatta said there was so much “pressure” on him that he contemplated suicide, but that he then decided to make a public confession. “I take responsibility for the wrong in Rawalpindi. I should be punished for my crimes and other people involved in this crime should be punished.”

He also accused the chief election commissioner and the chief justice of Pakistan for their roles in the rigging. Chatta was arrested by police after the statement.

The chief justice of the supreme court of Pakistan, Qazi Faez Isa, has denied the allegations.

The claims have put pressure on the election commission and Pakistan’s powerful military, which has been accused by many political parties of rigging the election to favour the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan People’s party (PPP).

However, the election commission has denied the allegations of rigging levelled by Chatta. The interim chief minister, Punjab Mohsin Naqvi, has taken notice of the commissioner’s allegations and ordered an “impartial probe” into allegations of manipulation of the election results.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) has demanded the resignation of the chief election commissioner and announced anti-rigging rallies across the country on Saturday to change the results. Khan, who has been in prison since last August, said the public mandate was stolen.

As protests erupted across Pakistan, Punjab police on Saturday arrested the PTI-backed candidate, Salman Akram Raja, in Lahore for taking part in a protest. Raja is one of more than 100 candidates who say the results were changed with fake votes.

Fazlur Rehman, the head of a religious political party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, and the former head of a democratic alliance that ousted Khan in a vote of no confidence in 2022, also alleged that the elections were rigged and has rejected the results. Rehman alleged that the elections were sold and said “some were given entire assemblies in exchange for money”.

In Pakistan’s restive province Balochistan, ethnic nationalist parties accused the military of rigging the election for PPP and PML-N and closed major highways for days. The military that has ruled Pakistan for decades has been facing criticism for its alleged role in the manipulation of election results.

Zahid Hussain, an author and political analyst, said the commissioner’s confession confirmed that there had been large-scale rigging in general elections. He said the massive riggings and the senior bureaucrat coming out in public had pushed the country into a deeper crisis.

Though commissioner Chatta did not name Pakistan’s powerful military as being responsible for the rigging, Hussain said that this was to be expected.

“Everyone knows that the military and election commission were behind this large scale of rigging in Pakistan. The confessional statement is proof of the election rigging which many of us already knew,” said Hussain.