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March 6, 2015

Rigging charges against PTI disrupt polling for hours

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March 6, 2015

PESHAWAR: Amid allegations of rigging against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led coalition government, polling remained disrupted for several hours in the Senate elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Thursday as leaders of the ruling coalition and opposition barely managed to salvage the election process.
The day-long stalemate over the alleged rigging appeared at one point to derail the Senate elections in the province where tension had escalated in the run-up to the polls over fears and allegations of horse-trading.
Hardly eight MPAs had cast their votes when the opposition parties alleged that lawmakers of the ruling coalition haddropped unauthorised blank ballot papers in the ballot box and brought out the actual ballots outside to manipulate votes.
Nighat Orakzai, the firebrand Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) lawmaker, asserted that the ruling coalition was trying to rig the polls by taking out the actual blank ballot papers and marking them at the Chief Minister’s House.
She alleged that the provincial minister Ziaullah Afridi and a Jamaat-e-Islami lawmaker had dropped authorised blank ballots in the ballot box and brought out the actual ones. The marked actual ballot paper, according to her, was then handed over to the next lawmaker who would poll it and bring out his own unmarked actual ballot paper which would once again be marked at the Chief Minister’s House. This cycle, she added, would go on to ensure lawmakers did not vote according to their free will.
The opposition parties stopped the polling at around 11am. The standoff continued until 4pm, the time polling was scheduled to stop. The opposition and government held talks and reached a deal that all lawmakers would stay in the assembly hall to stop the said irregularity. After the agreement, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) extended the polling time to 8pm. However, sources said polling continued beyond 8 pm.
Nighat Orakzai said if any unauthorized ballot paper was found

during counting, the opposition would consider that the election was rigged. She said she was also offered bribe but refused to take money in return for her vote.
Information Minister Mushtaq Ghani denied any PTI lawmaker was involved in bringing out the actual ballot paper.“We don’t believe in using unfair means in elections. If Imran Khan came to know that any member had taken out a blank ballot paper, he would send him packing,” he said while talking to the media when the standoff was brewing.
“We have 80 members and these are enough to elect all the candidates that we have fielded,” he said. When reminded that the ruling coalition doesn’t have 80 MPAs, he said it was a slip of tongue as they had 70 members.
Senior Minister Inayatullah, who belongs to JI, said some opposition parties were bent upon sabotaging the election after they realised they could not buy the lawmakers. He alleged that opposition parties’ lawmakers had “physically stopped” ECP officials from continuing the election process.
Both the ministers indicated the government’s willingness to use force if the ECP wanted so. They even urged the ECP to ask the government to help them resume the election process. “The government is ready to maintain law and order,” Mushtaq Ghani declared.
Importantly, Javed Naseem, a lawmaker from PK-3 Peshawar constituency who was expelled by PTI on charges of indiscipline and horse-trading, did not turn up for casting his vote.
A man who received a call on his cellphone claimed he was not in the city. He said Javed Naseem intentionally did not cast vote to prove that all allegations hurled by Imran Khan and other members of his PTI against were baseless. He claimed Javed Naseem did not sell his vote as he considered it a sacred responsibility entrusted to him by the voters.
Tension was visible during the polling. Provincial Minister Ali Amin Gandapur of the PTI reportedly exchanged heated words with the PPP’s Noor Alam Khan, a former MNA who was among the party’s candidates in the Senate polls before quietly retiring, who was aided by Shazia Aurangzeb.
Nighat Orakzai alleged that Minister Ziaullah Afridi hurled abuses at her and pushed her that caused sprain in her right foot. She named Ziaullah Bangash, a PTI lawmaker from Kohat, at one stage as the culprit though many felt she meant Ziaullah Afridi, the minister for mining.
Farzana Ali, a senior female journalist from a television channel, complained an employee of the assembly manhandled her. This prompted members of the media to protest.
Earlier, the authorities refused entry to journalists. They said media was not allowed to cover the Senate elections. Journalists protested at the gate during rain and finally managed to enter the provincial assembly premises.

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