Politics as usual

November 22, 2020

As no party won a clear majority in GB elections, a coalition government including the PTI, the MWM and independents appears to be a workable formula

The month-long frenzy over the Gilgit Baltistan (GB) elections is over without there being a major upset.

No single party has won a majority. On November 15 elections were held to 23 seats. The election was deferred in one constituency following the death of a candidate. According to unofficial results, the PTI has one nine seats; independent candidates seven and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) four seats. The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), which had an absolute majority previous assembly, has won only two seats. The Majlis-i-Wahdatul Muslimeen has won one. Independent candidates continue to join the PTI.

The results are quite unlike the past two elections. In 2015, the PML-N, then ruling in Islamabad had formed a government in GB by winning a majority of the seats. In 2009, the PPP, then heading the federal government, had won a clear majority and formed a government.

It is not clear who will form the government now. Most experts believe that being the largest single party the PTI is most likely to form a government with support from some independent members and the MWM. The PPP has an outside chance; it will need to persuade the independents and the PML-N to support it.

The GB election had been touted as a litmus test of popularity. Before the polls it seemed possible that the PPP and the PML-N win a majority of the seats. Had this happened, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) would have a case to argue for early polls countrywide. However, this did not happen. PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto’s three-week campaign may have been a factor in the high turnout (60 percent) but did not translate into the kind of resounding success the PDM needed.

Both the PPP and the PML-N are accusing the PTI of rigging the elections using state machinery. The government has denied this. Bilawal Bhutto, the PPP chairman, last week called the elections “open and naked rigging.“ The PPP, he said, would consider every possible legal remedy. “The results were changed overnight. The declaration of results was delayed. Our candidates were winning,” he told the media.

PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal too made similar claims. “We reject the GB election results. PML-N activists will march from the party’s central secretariat to the CEC’s office at 2pm tomorrow [Tuesday],” Ahsan announced. He said federal ministers had blatantly violated the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) code of conduct. “Some aliens have been imposed on the people in GB,” he alleged.

PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz also rejected the results, claiming that the PTI had secured some of the seats by bullying and rigging. She said it had also benefited from the support of turncoats whom it had encouraged to defect. She alleged that billions of rupees were spent to buy votes and loyalties. The rigging, she said, had started at the time of creation of an interim set-up in GB for which no consultation was undertaken.

The GB election was being touted as a litmus test for popularity, especially, the PTI. Before the polls, it seemed possible that the PPP and the PML-N would get a majority of the seats. Had that happened, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) would have a case to argue for early elections.

In its monitoring report, the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), pointed to instances of breach of secrecy of the vote; stamping of ballots by others on behalf of the voters; and the failure of registered voters at some polling stations to cast their ballots despite carrying their national identity cards.

“A vibrant and competitive election campaign by all major parties and independent candidates turned intense and heated towards the end over the controversy of federal minsters running election campaigns in violation of legal limits. As many as 320 candidates including four women – 127 representing 16 political parties and 200 independent candidates – were contesting in 23 constituencies. Nevertheless, the election day remained largely peaceful with no major incidents of violence reported from anywhere in the region throughout the day. However, a few incidents of protests and violence were reported from some constituencies of Gilgit, Ghanche, Ghizer and Diamer due to the delay in the release of results,” the FAFEN observed.

“The election day was generally orderly, with voting and counting processes at the polling stations conducted mostly according to the law and prescribed rules, though the legally mandatory provision of Form 45 (the Result of the Count) to polling agents was reported to have not been fully ensured by the presiding officers. Election officials at polling stations appeared well-versed with the provisions of the Elections Act, 2017, which Gilgit-Baltistan had adopted for these elections. Impressively, the ECGB mostly ensured the enforcement of the law’s ban against campaigning and canvassing on election day. Fewer than one-third of the observed polling stations had camps set up by political parties and independent candidates for wooing voters,” the report reads. A competitive and mostly peaceful campaign by political parties and independent candidates, it says. The FAFEN report, however, mentions that candidates and their agents were barred from the returning officers’ offices during the preparation of preliminary results in at least three constituencies.

Experts say it is important to address the allegations of rigging and irregularities. Because, for many, it is surprising that the two main parties – the PML-N and the PPP that formed the GB government(s) in the two previous terms lost badly and that even the former chief ministers of GB lost their seats. In 2009 and 2015, the PPP and the PML-N had secured 14 and 16 seats, respectively.

“Traditionally, the party in power in Islamabad always has an edge when it comes to elections in GB or Azad Jammu and Kashmir. So, why were we expecting an upset this time? I believe that the results did surprise many. The PTI failed to secure a majority as elections were keenly contested,” political analyst Mazhar Abbas writes. He says “certain reservations aside, apparently there are not serious complaints of rigging. All allegations of rigging evidence to be effective. Every party and candidate has a right to protest and take the legal course.”

A win-win situation can result if the PTI, the PPP and the independents along with the MWM form a broad coalition to pave the way for political stability in GB as well as the Centre, some experts point out. Otherwise, the PTI can form a weak government with the help of some independents and face more political pressures.

The author is a staff    reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

GB election 2020: Politics as usual