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KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: Intense last minute manoeuvring and hectic lobbying went into the early hours of Wednesday morning ahead of the critical Senate elections taking place today. Unpleasant events were witnessed on Tuesday, where in Sindh, the provincial assembly descended into chaotic fracas after MPAs belonging to the Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) engaged into a scuffle and brawl and the PTI managed to wrestle free one of their MPAs Karim Bux Gabol and drove him away, who had earlier pledged to vote against the party lines. The scuffle left PPP Mukesh Chawla slightly bruised.
In Punjab, adrenaline pumped up when the video of PDM’s Senate candidate Yusuf Raza Gilani’s son Ali Haider Gilani went viral on the social media platforms tutoring MPAs how to cancel their vote.
On Tuesday morning, the Sindh Assembly witnessed MPAs belonging to the Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) scuffle and brawl over the PTI’s three dissident MPAs. On Monday, PTI’s three MPAs — Shahryar Khan Shar, Aslam Abro, and Karim Bux Gabol — in their video statements announced they would not vote for the party’s candidates.
When the PTI’s dissident MPAs arrived in the Sindh Assembly in the same vehicle to attend the Tuesday’s session, members of the ruling PPP welcomed them by clapping for them. On the other hand, the PTI MPAs chanted slogans against them for betraying the party.
The situation in the assembly turned ugly when fellow PTI MPAs approached Gabol to come with them even before he had taken his seat. A scuffle then broke out, with MPAs belonging to the PTI and PPP shoving each other and shouting slogans.
During the fracas, the assembly’s security staff and the Deputy Speaker Rehana Leghari remained helpless in maintaining order. Following the scuffle, Gabol was wrestled free by the PTI lawmakers who escorted him out of the assembly and sped him away in a standby vehicle. Meanwhile, the other two dissident MPAs — Shar and Abro — remained on the PPP’s side and exited the assembly with government members.
“This is not the way. Speaker Sahiba, they are kidnapping an MPA from the house,” shouted Mukesh Kumar Chawla, urging Deputy Speaker Rehana Leghari, who was chairing the session, to intervene. Media reports suggest Chawla was injured in the scuffle. PTI’s Khurram Sherzaman, who is also the party’s Karachi president, and other MPAs asked the PPP lawmakers not to intervene as the issue was “an internal party matter”.
Meanwhile, another video surfaced in which MPA Karim Bux Gabol was heard saying that he doesn’t want to vote for the PPP’s candidate. The current video is contrary to his video statement on Monday. Gabol said in the video message that the PPP members are trying to kidnap and force him to vote for their candidate. “I don’t want to vote in their favour.”
Later, Haleem Adil Sheikh, Leader of the Opposition, while talking to Sindh Assembly, said that Gabol had been ‘released.’ “Gabol has given a statement clarifying that the PPP ministers and MPAs had kidnapped him and had forced him to record a video against his own party,” said Shaikh.
Meanwhile, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, with three MPAs in Sindh Assembly on Tuesday, announced to abstain from the Senate polls. Addressing a press conference at the Karachi Press Club, TLP Sindh chief Allama Ghous Baksh Baghdadi claimed the ruling party and opposition both have offered the party’s lawmakers to sell their votes in exchange for billions of rupees.
“But TLP believes in transparent politics and therefore decided to abstain from the Senate polls today,” Baghdadi said. However, he said that TLP’s three MPAs will only vote for the party’s candidate on technocrat seat Yashaullah Khan Afghan, and not on the general and women seats.
Jamaat-e-Islami’s top leadership has already directed its lone MPA from Sindh Assembly to abstain from today’s Senate polls. Also, the PPP has asked the Election Commission of Pakistan to take notice of media reports saying that PTI has booked 30 rooms at a hotel where 15 MPAs are currently residing. “Likewise, MQM-Pakistan has booked rooms at another hotel for their MPAs,” said Taj Haider, PPP’s In-charge Central Election Cell and also a Senate candidate, in a letter to the ECP. He said that this unusual behaviour of the MPAs of PTI and MQM-P residing in hotels despite having accommodation in Karachi raises concerns.
“The ECP is requested to investigate the mysterious behaviour of these MPAs residing in Karachi hotels to ensure that the housed MPAs are not bribed or under any duress that may abstain them from exercising their free opinion in the Senate election,” Haider said. He also asked the ECP to investigate who is bearing the lodging expenses.
In yet another alleged leaked audio circulating on social media and various TV channels, Sindh Information Minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah could be “purportedly heard” giving assurances to the PTI lawmakers by offering money for voting against party lines during the Senate elections.
In the audio message, former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s son Ali Haider Gilani was allegedly establishing contact between the PTI lawmakers with Nasir Hussain Shah on the telephone. However, Shah told various media outlets that he did not know who impersonated his voice and denied being given any responsibility by the party regarding the Senate election. In the video, Haider Gilani is heard telling them to fold their ballot paper like a kite if the Election Commission of Pakistan does not put any number on the ballot paper. However, if the ballot paper is without any numbers or identifiers, then the PTI members need to write numbers 60, 23, 7, 11 so that they can be later identified for the payments. He specifically gives them the numbers and also writes them down for his record. The faces of the people with whom Ali Gilani is talking cannot be seen. However, one of the persons says that they have the support of four. It was not clear who made the video, and how it got leaked. The video is reportedly a week old. However, according to an anchor of a private news channel, the money was being offered to four PTI MNAs. He also aired allegedly a telephonic conversation of Nasir Hussain Shah, the PPP Minister in the Sindh Government, in which Gilani can be heard saying that the deal was okayed by Asif Ali Zardari himself. However, Nasir Hussain Shah later denied that it was his voice.
The Sindh Minister for LB, Nasir Shah, is purportedly heard negotiating with the MPs offering them money and developing schemes on behalf of the PPP chairman, while also telling them to lower their demand. The Sindh minister is heard quoting the PPP chairman’s offer of Rs50-60 million to voters besides Rs100m worth development works in the constituency. Even from that amount, you will get half, Nasir Shah is reported to have said. Everyone will get the same amount, if you are given more I will get caught, he tells one MP. The MP says he has been offered Rs160 million. Nasir purportedly replies we require 20 votes to clinch the Senate seat. The MP says do whatever is needed before the Senate election. The minister asks him about the person who would collect the payment in Karachi. The MP then turns around to ask if there is any guarantor between you (Nasir ) and Asif Zardari. Nasir says how will you take the money. We will tell you at night. The rates in FATA and KPK are the same for the Senate seats. Karachi has slightly lower rates, but the rates being offered by MQM are slightly on the higher side. Towards the end of the conversation, Nasir says many party leaders repose confidence in you. You are considered the best person. Prime Minister Imran has also reposed confidence in them, saying these are credible people.
Separately, Shah, while talking outside the Sindh Assembly, said that the party’s Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had given special directives that the whole process should be accomplished in a democratic manner. Discussing the brawl at the Sindh Assembly, Shah said that the unfortunate incident that took place on the floor of Sindh Assembly should not have happened. “PTI staged a drama in Sindh Assembly, PPP has nothing to do with it,” the minister said.
He said that PTI MPA Gabol expressed his displeasure on party policies through a video statement on Tuesday and following him, PTI’s two other MPAs Aslam Abro and Shehryar Shar have also shown reservations over their party’s nominations and attitudes in a video statement. Shah alleged that PTI MPAs forcibly took away Gabol and PPP MPAs tried to stop them.
The Sindh minister also said that the defection rule did not apply to the Senate vote. “If anyone deviates from his party on the prime minister and the Finance Bill vote, then defection rule implies,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission of Pakistan swung into action on Tuesday night announcing to take decisive action on the video clip of Ali Haider Gilani tutoring someone on how to waste a vote and PTI leader Liaquat Jatoi’s allegation against his party for selling a Senate seat to Saifullah Abro for Rs350 million. Haider is the son of PDM candidate Syed Yusuf Raza Gillani, who is contesting an iconical contest against the government nominated Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh from the federal capital. A spokesperson for the Election Commission said that the Election Commission had taken notice of the clip and the decision on this count would be on merit.
Earlier, as the video clip went viral on the social media, it drew a sharp reaction from the government camp. Federal Minister for Science and Technology Ch. Fawad Hussain rushed to the Election Commission Secretariat to file a petition against the leaked video. He held a brief media talk and remarked that the ECP head-office was shut and no officer was present there.
Talking to the media on the occasion, Ch. Fawad said that Ali Haider Gilani had accepted that it was his video and following the confession, Yousuf Raza Gilani should be declared ineligible to contest the elections. Fawad, however, said there was no election of Yousuf Raza Gilani as Hafeez Sheikh was ahead of him in votes. He charged that there was no one in the Election Commission to look into the matter immediately.
However, the Election Commission instantly rejected the minister’s statement. “Federal Minister Fawad Chaudhry’s statement that there is no officer in the Election Commission is wrong. The R&I Branch of the Election Commission is open and relevant officers are present,” an ECP spokesperson said. Besides, he added the Election Commission had set up the Senate Election Monitoring and Control Room, which is working 24 hours a day and the telephone numbers for contact control room 03-0519204402, 0519204404.
Earlier, reacting to the ECP’s decision of sticking to the old format of Senate election, Ch. Fawad slammed the ECP, saying the implementation of the Supreme Court’s orders was a prerequisite for credible elections. He insisted the Supreme Court had issued clear directions to the ECP to use technology. He said that the ECP was informed that if it requires technology as directed by the apex court, it was available and could be provided to it, but the ECP turned down the offer.
The Election Commission of Pakistan also took notice of PTI leader and former CM Sindh Liaquat Jatoi's allegations against his own party of awarding the Senate election ticket to Saifullah Abro in exchange of Rs350 million. Jatoi made the claims while speaking at a press conference in Dadu.
“The ticket was given to him [Abro] for Rs350 million,” he remarked while answering a question. “Abro had joined the party six months ago. On what basis and merit was he issued the Senate ticket?” In reaction to the charge, Abro served a defamation notice to Jatoi, saying that the PTI leaders should prove their claims or else pay for defaming him.
Later on, PTI MNAs Farrukh Habib and Kanwal Shauzab visited the Election Commission Secretariat to file a writ petition, seeking disqualification of Yousaf Raza Gilani, following the surfacing of his son’s video.
Talking to journalists before submitting the petition, Habib and Shauzab contended that after the video went viral and Ali Haider confessed, the Election Commission should swiftly disqualify the PDM candidate from Islamabad, as under the Elections Act, 2017, the ECP has massive powers to deal with corrupt and illegal practices.
Habib said that the job of the Election Commission was to guard against such theft and there was no use looking for the thief, after he had been caught red-handed, seen influencing, buying and selling votes and that is rigging. “Now there is no moral justification for Yousaf Raza Gilani to contest the election and he should withdraw from the race. From the day one, PM Imran Khan has been striving for doing away with such corrupt practices, buying and selling of conscience and bringing about transparency in the Senate polls,” they pointed out.
On the other hand, addressing a press conference along with Secretary Information Shazia Marri here, Ali Haider Gilani, the son of former prime minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, explained that his video shows his meeting with the PTI MNAs who wanted to vote for his father instead of their party candidate Dr Hafeez Sheikh. They had asked me what to do if their votes and identity marks on the ballot were checked and I told them to fold their votes while casting “so as to waste the ballot”. Clarifying that no money deal was involved, he said “tell me if any money deal was made for the vote in the video as I was only explaining the procedure of casting the vote,” he said.
Ali Haider Gilani said everyone could see that in the video they were asking a question and he was only replying to them. He said he had met a lot of people while campaigning for his father as all the NA members were "our constituents and all of them are honourable for us."
He said he also held meetings with PTI legislators for campaigning for voting for his father and not once but met many of them several times as it was constitutional right to seek vote. “We always seek vote of conscience and do not believe in buying of votes,” he said.
He said some of the PTI legislators contacted us as they were not inclined to vote to Dr Hafeez Sheikh and "they sought my advice against their ballots being identified and I told them to fold their votes to waste it." In a reply to a question, he said he did not know who had recorded the video.
Haider Gilani also lashed out at Prime Minister Imran Khan saying that he had attempted to earn lawmakers’ loyalty by issuing development funds of Rs500 million for every PTI MNA. “Wasn’t that buying of votes and the Election Commission of Pakistan should have to take notice of that,” he said. The junior Gilani said everyone has seen what happened in Karachi today where the PTI thrashed their own MPAs in the Sindh Assembly who did not want to vote for their party candidates.
In a related development, Maryam Nawaz tweeted that MPAs or MNAs who receive calls from ‘unknown numbers’ or ‘Caller ID withheld’ must report to their respective leadership. Callers must be named and shamed. Also, Khaqan Abbasi said in a TV show that two people had been called and we are verifying and if true we will make it public.