Independents emerge as key players in GB govt formation – Newspaper


• PPP gives call for protests against alleged rigging
• Maryam says PTI failed to get ‘simple majority’ despite using full state power

ISLAMABAD: Independent candidates winning nearly one-third of the total general seats of the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) in Sunday’s hotly contested — but tainted with rigging allegations — elections have become key players in the formation of the government in the strategically located region.

The complete but unofficial results of all the 23 constituencies, where polling was held on Sunday, show that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has emerged as the single largest party with 10 seats, followed by seven independents. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) won three seats, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) two and the Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM), which had a seat adjustment with the PTI, got one seat.

With the possible inclusion of four, out of six reserved seats for women, and two out of three reserved seats for technocrats, the total number of seats of the PTI and its allies will become 16 in the 33-member GBLA, indicating that it will need the support of only one more winning candidate to form the government.

Presently, the PTI has not nominated anyone as its candidate for the office of the GB chief minister as its likely candidate and party’s GB president retired Justice Jaffer Shah had died only weeks before the polling day due to coronavirus and his death also caused a delay in the elections on the seat GBLA-3 Gilgit-III. The by-election on this seat is scheduled to be held on Nov 22.

As the PTI workers and activists began celebrations over their first-ever victory in the region, the country’s two major opposition parties — the PPP and the PML-N — came out with allegations of rigging and foul play. The PPP even gave a call for protests in the region against the alleged rigging as PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari warned Islamabad of “dire consequences if the rigging in elections is not reversed”.

The PPP, which in the previous elections had only one seat in the GB assembly, has won three seats one each in Gilgit, Nagar and Ghanche. While the party has been alleging rigging in the whole election process, its main accusation relates to the Gilgit-I constituency (GBLA-1) where its candidate Jamil Ahmed had been declared winner on Sunday night with a lead of 400 votes after the final count but in the morning he was shown as trailing by merely two votes.

Hundreds of the PPP supporters, who staged a sit-in outside the deputy commissioner’s office in Gilgit city, were also addressed by Mr Bhutto-Zardari.

In his fiery speech, the PPP chairman said his party candidates had faced “immense pressure to quit the party and join the PTI” but they remained steadfast. It was very clear that three seats were snatched from the PPP, he said, adding that the PPP would continue its protest at every place where rigging had occurred.

“We will not allow the puppet, the selected and the selectors to steal the election mandate. The selectors knew that the PTI does not exist in GB. Everyone knows that the people of GB are with the PPP,” he said.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari, who ran an extensive campaign for the poll and stayed in the region for almost a month, said he was not going anywhere till the people were protesting for their rights. He said the people of GB snatched their rights from Dogra Raj and they would do the same again.

Stating that he is under pressure by the people, he warned the powers to be, not to push him to the extent that “I take extreme measures”. He told the protesting people to continue raising voice for their right if the seats snatched through rigging were not restored according to their mandate. He also warned Islamabad that if the rigging was not reversed, then the people of Gilgit-Baltistan would march towards Islamabad. In that case, he said, he knew that he “will be choosing an extreme and difficult path but that will be the path to victory.”

The PPP chairman said the PTI was not sure of its victory in the elections and that was why it had not nominated anyone as its candidate for the chief minister’s office. On this occasion, he announced the name Amjad Hussain as the PPP’s nominee for the chief minister’s office.

He accused the GB Election Commission of supporting the ruling PTI and the “illegal acts of the PTI ministers”. Instead of stopping the government ministers from illegal acts, he said, the chief election commissioner held a press conference in Islamabad against the opposition.

PTI got ‘shameful defeat’: Maryam

Similarly, the PML-N also rejected the election results, alleging that the people’s mandate had been stolen. The party, which ruled the region with 16 seats for five years, has now been reduced to only two Diamer and Ghizer seats that its candidates have won.

PML-N’s vice president Maryam Nawaz said: “Neither did the PTI have any existence in GB previously nor will it have one now.” The few seats that the PTI grabbed were won through breaking away PML-N candidates, rigging and with the help of selectors, she said.

In another tweet, Maryam said the PTI’s inability to get a “simple majority despite worst rigging and changing loyalties through full state power, government institutions, government machinery and black tactics” was actually a “shameful defeat”.

Ms Nawaz said the PTI would need help to form the government “using crutches just like in Punjab and the Centre.”

“Brave people of GB! Do not lose courage because of this rigging. The game of these puppets is about to end,” she added.

Also, PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal addressed a news conference in Gilgit whereas party’s vice-president Shahid Khaqan Abbasi spoke to reporters outside an accountability court in Islamabad. The two leaders lashed out at the PTI for, what they called, stealing the people’s mandate.

Shibli calls polls ‘very transparent’

Meanwhile, federal Minister for Information Senator Shibli Faraz said the people of Gilgit-Baltistan had rejected the narrative of opposition’s Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and Nawaz Sharif by voting for the PTI.

Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, the minister criticised the media for giving an impression that the people of GB and Azad Jammu and Kashmir always voted for the parties having government at the Centre.

He said the people of GB had voted with a democratic mindset and chosen their progress, prosperity, development and bright future.

Refuting the opposition’s rigging charges, the minister said the media covered the election campaign with their cameras and teams and the senior most leadership of the opposition campaigned in the elections.

“This was a very transparent election,” he insisted, adding that if the PTI wanted to rig the elections, it would have won at least 14 to 15 seats out of 23.

He again criticised the opposition parties for not taking the allegations of rigging in the 2018 general elections in Pakistan to the Election Commission of Pakistan and courts just as the PTI had done after the 2013 general elections.

Changes to election laws

Replying to a question, Senator Faraz said the government would bring further changes in the election laws to introduce electronic voting and “show of hands” method in the Senate elections as a part of its efforts to make the process transparent.

Kalbe Ali also contributed to the report

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2020

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