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November 19, 2020

Post-GB election scenario


November 19, 2020

People of Gilgit-Baltistan created history by reposing confidence in democracy when on Sunday, in highly chilly weather, they came out in large numbers, including women and elders, to cast their votes for respective candidates, standing in queues for hours. Thus, they deserve full credit and now it’s up to the elected representatives and the party that will form the government to fulfill the promises they made during the hectic election campaign.

From the day the elections were announced till the end of the polling time, the political atmosphere remained peaceful, which itself showed political maturity among the people of GB. There were minor incidents among the supporters of rival candidates after the counting. Generally, it was expected that the party that is ruling Islamabad i.e. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, would be able to gain the majority but what surprised many that unlike in the previous two elections, it could not get a clear majority. This again is a positive development and showed what difference it could make if parties take elections seriously through aggressive campaigns.

What are the lessons the political parties could learn from these polls, held under the supervision of the GB Election Commission and local administration?

One lesson which all the parties could learn that even ‘electables’ could lose and it happened in these polls as some of them lost. Even at the national level, the PTI gave tickets to some electables in 2018 in Punjab but they lost. It’s a lesson not only for the PTI but for the PPP and PML-N. In the GB polls, the PTI workers rejected some of the candidates the party had nominated and who had joined the PTI recently and were given preference over the party workers. This is a positive development in our politics and the PTI, certainly, has introduced a few good traditions like what they did with the MPAs a few years back.

Unlike in 2009 and 2015, the election atmosphere was charged due to the presence of the frontline leaders of all the three mainstream parties i.e. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Pakistan People’s Party, and Pakistan Muslim League. Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is also the Chairman of PTI, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and PML-N Senior Vice-President Maryam Nawaz addressed gatherings and public meetings.

Bilawal Bhutto was most active and stayed till the end. He is still not ready to accept all the results and believed his election was ‘stolen.’ What was most noticeable in his campaign were his extempore speeches unlike in other public meetings that he addressed in the past.

Maryam Nawaz Sharif, Vice President, PML-N, though started a belated campaign but also drew a big crowd but the result was disappointing for a variety of reasons.

All the three parties despite their serious political differences have agreed on one point i.e. to make GB a separate province and in the post-election scenario, it will now be a test for all to fulfill the promises they made. Prime Minister Imran Khan has promised that he would give GB the status of Provisional Province, something which requires further debate as the people want a full provincial status.

However, Islamabad and Rawalpindi also need to take into account the reservations expressed by the government of Azad Kashmir. Prime Minister, AJK, Raja Farooq Haider, recently held one-on-one meeting with the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and also attended the meeting held by Gen Bajwa with the parliamentary leaders of all the parties prior to the GB polls.

In this backdrop, it is also important to address the allegations expressed by the PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who has accused that his election has been ‘stolen.’ The PPP came third in the race behind PTI and Independents. The PPP has given a tough fight to the PTI, as the margins of victory in most seats were very close.

The election results clearly showed there is no clean winner unlike in 2009 and 2015, when PPP and PML(N) bagged 14 and 16 seats respectively. In the 2020 elections, the PTI won 10 seats, Independents, 7, PPP, 3, PML (N), 1, one by Majlis-e-Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen, MWM. There are still some controversies over a few seats.

Following the election results, both the PPP and PML(N) rejected it and former president Asif Ali Zardari and former PM Nawaz Sharif had a long telephonic conversation about the post GB scenario and the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s planned public meetings and the Islamabad march.

Bilawal Bhutto, during his hard-hitting statement yesterday, warned of a long march to Islamabad from GB, if his grievances were not addressed.

The Pakistan Democratic Movement in its meeting on Tuesday rejected the GB polls and called it an ‘action replay’ of 2018 polls. However, most independent observers by and large termed the election as ‘free and fair’ despite some complaints about the role of the Election Commission of GB, which came under criticism on the pretext that during the campaign it failed to establish its writ and could not stop the federal ministers.

The dilemma of our political class has been their failure to ‘reform the system,’ and come out from election mongering and do some serious business. Sadly, in the last two and a half years, the parliament could not reach at any consensus. Previously, during the 18th Amendment, they did some work like the formation of interim set-up and selection of chairman ECP but that alone was not enough. Both the government and opposition often opt for their ‘favorites’ instead of appointing someone on merit. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s move to introduce some electoral reforms required serious debate, particularly over the question of ‘overseas Pakistanis.’ But the move to bring an amendment for ‘show of hand’ during the Senate elections would certainly minimise the chances of ‘horse trading,’ which has now become a tradition in our politics. The PM has also offered the opposition a dialogue on these reforms but the latter already rejected any talk with the government and decided to continue with the movement to dislodge the government. All this is leading to confrontation and the coming weeks are important for major political developments.

Similarly, prior to the GB polls, these parties had ample time to reform its EC but no one raised these issues seriously till the elections were announced. We are still not mature enough to accept the election results at time for the right reason as pre and post-election management in the past had remained controversial and engineered. But, then none of these parties when came to power brought reforms and improvement.

Another factor which often prevents aggrieved parties from going to the court or to the Election Tribunal, is the delay in disposing the petitions. Under the law, the Election Tribunal has to decide within four months but it took years.

Traditionally, the party in power in Islamabad always has an edge when it comes to elections in GB or Azad Kashmir or former Fata. So, why we were expecting an upset this time. I believe that the results did surprise many when the PTI found it difficult and elections were keenly contested and Imran’s party could not got a clean slide. With reservations aside, apparently there are not serious complaints. What could be possible is some alleged ‘foul play’ on two or three seats, which in the GB contest means a lot. But, all this needs evidence. Every party and candidate has a right to protest and take the legal course.

For a way forward, it is important that political parties instead of short term gains do some serious work to reform the system and adopt measures to stop ‘political engineering’ and start accepting defeat. If not, democracy will remain a myth in Pakistan far from the vision of the father of the nation, Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang