Charges fly as GB poll battle heats up

Published November 6, 2020
PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz (left) and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. — DawnNewsTV
PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz (left) and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. — DawnNewsTV

GILGIT / ISLAMABAD: Electioneering gained momentum in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) with the arrival of Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) vice president Maryam Nawaz in the region on Thursday as Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari called into question integrity and impartiality of the GB Election Commission ahead of Nov 15 polls.

Addressing corner meetings at Pakwara in Astore and Jaglot in connection with the election campaign, the PPP chairman criticised GB Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Raja Shahbaz Khan for holding a news conference in Islamabad and asked him to reveal details of “his meetings with government functionaries” during his stay in the federal capital.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari made the demand a day after the CEC, at a news conference in Islamabad, rejected the talk of pre-poll rigging in GB and indirectly criticised the opposition parties for crying foul even before polling.

Without naming anyone, the GB CEC had said: “There are returning officers in 24 constituencies who have not seen any rigging, but they (the opposition) can see it while sitting 600km away.”

He had said that notices had been issued to as many as 95 individuals belonging to different political parties for running election campaigns in GB in violation of the code of conduct. He said those issued notices included Mr Bhutto-Zardari and federal ministers Murad Saeed and Ali Amin Gandapur.

Reacting to the CEC’s news conference, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said it was the responsibility of the CEC to hold free and fair elections in GB but “he is holding meetings in Islamabad and addressing a press conference against me.”

The PPP chairman expressed surprise over issuance of a notice to him by the election commission, saying he did not hold any public office and had the right to run the election campaign of his party.

“The election commissioner is facilitating the prime minister and the federal ministers in violating elections laws and is not protecting the right of the people to participate in free and fair elections,” he alleged.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari then turned his guns towards Prime Minister Imran Khan and criticised him for talking about his government’s decision to give provisional status of province to the GB. He said it was former president Asif Zardari who had granted interim status of province to GB and appointed a governor and a chief minister back in 2009. He claimed that Mr Khan was “ignorant” about the ground situation in GB.

Referring to the prime minister’s recent statement that he was not announcing any package for GB due to the elections, the PPP chairman said the people of the region were asking him why he did not announce the package during the last two years of his government.

He termed the visits of the prime minister and the federal ministers to GB a violation of the election laws and alleged that the ministers were even distributing money to the people to seek their votes. However, he said: “these incapable (ministers) and puppets do not know that the masses of GB are honourable and loyal people who are not available for sale.”

“Imran Khan wants to snatch the subsidy given (to the GB people) by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on food items, petrol and clothes but the PPP will not allow this to happen,” he said.

The PPP, he said, would not only give full-fledged status of province to GB but also the right to rule and the rights of property and employment to its people.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari said today every section of society was protesting against the government’s “tyranny.”

Meanwhile, Maryam Nawaz also addressed PML-N workers at Skardu and Ghanche in which she mostly targeted the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government in Pakistan and Prime Minister Khan.

It is interesting to note that the PPP and the PML-N are jointly running an anti-government campaign in Pakistan from the platform of the Pakistan Democratic Movement, but they are contesting elections against each other in GB. However, so far, the two parties in their election campaigns have refrained from targeting each other and both are mainly targeting the PTI.

Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2020

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