PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Monday levelled a host of allegations regarding irregularities in Gilgit-Baltistan's elections, saying his party will use all its legal options against the "open and naked rigging" in the polls.
Addressing a press conference in Gilgit a day after polls closed and unofficial results showed the PPP had won only three out of the 24 seats in the GB Legislative Assembly, Bilawal claimed that results were manipulated "overnight" for elections on seats that the PPP was winning and the party was declared to have lost them during the day.
Citing an example, Bilawal said PPP candidate Jameel Ahmed was winning the election by 1,000 votes last night "but this morning an attempt was being made to hand over that seat to PTI by two votes".
He said Forms-45 were not matching in the contest that Ahmed was a part of, and the PPP candidate would lose only if the Election Commission's forms were considered, which he alleged "did not bear the signatures of polling agents and were without attested documents".
He said the party has received similar complaints from all over GB. "In GB-13, no polling took place at all in two villages [and] weather was made an excuse. Our first demand will be that the election on that seat is not complete until everyone has been allowed to cast their vote," he added.
Bilawal shared what he termed his party's "strong reservations" in GBLA-18, where he claimed "women have been disenfranchised and not allowed to vote". He further said the GB Election Commission did not provide the facilities to PPP candidate Saadia Danish that would enable her to run her own campaign in the constituency and that she didn't even get the permission to file her nomination papers in that area.
"The way [ballots] were stamped there in order to meet the 10 per cent threshold, as part of a muk-muka (covert deal), that seat too would be going towards re-election if the Election Commission had been working as per the law," the PPP leader said.
He alleged that ballot boxes were stolen in GBLA-21 from where Ayub Shah fought the election on a PPP ticket and a first information report was lodged regarding this. "How can the so-called Election Commission ignore this kind of open and naked rigging? How can they ignore the theft of the vote of this area's people?
"PPP ended raajgiri system here, we won't let it return in any other form. We will protect the vote of this area's people. We don't think a seat's election has any value if its polling boxes were stolen. Either they should be brought back or re-polling should be held in those areas," he stressed.
Bilawal alleged that sectarianism was spread "deliberately" in GBLA-1 and Skardu, and was used politically to make the PPP lose.
"We think this playing with the fire for a seat, for an election ... is akin to playing with the fate of these people. We won't allow this to become a political card. We won't allow the concept of 'divide and rule' to be taken this far ... only to make your favourite party win," he said.
He further said the PPP was ready to use "all its options" to protect the vote of the GB residents and was approaching the courts as well as the Election Commission.
He alleged that some federal ministers and special assistants to the prime minister had committed "contempt of court" by arriving in the region and campaigning till the election day.
"We are expecting as a result of our petition, not only are those ministers disqualified but also the candidates for whom they were campaigning," he said, adding that in contrast, the PPP had accepted the court decision barring him from campaigning "unwillingly".
"When PPP's prime minister can be disqualified and held in contempt, then surely we expect that action will be taken against the PTI ministers and their candidates who violated the Pakistan Constitution and law," he said.
According to Bilawal, the PPP was also collecting evidence regarding the trips allegedly made by ministers to GB even before the court order barring public office holders from campaigning in the region was issued.
"But the red line they crossed, the way they were talking about distributing Pakistan's funds here [and] were promising federal projects in exchange for votes, we take this very seriously," he said.
Addressing the GB Election Commission, he said: "If you couldn't stop them (ministers), then the fact that they have not only used and abused state resources, but are on the record of trying to bribe the people of GB [...] at the very least those candidates should be disqualified.
"We are going to the Election Commission against each and every single PTI candidate for whom the federal ministers while campaigning announced federal funds and projects. This is our legal option and right."
He announced that he will again join the PPP protest against "rigging and vote theft" on Tuesday, saying the demonstrations will continue until "we have secured our vote".
Bilawal alleged that the federal government had "no preparation" to win the GB elections, saying this was evident from the fact that the PTI had not announced its candidate for the chief minister until now.
Answering a question, he alleged that the federal government had used "various institutions" to manipulate the elections, and suggested the Intelligence Bureau's (IB) involvement. "We are aware of the role of IB and other institutions. [We] know how two institutions were conspiring in a room and were dividing our seats," he said, adding that despite not being allowed a level playing field, his party was focusing on the "ongoing rigging".
"We hope by the morning when our consolidation process is completed and recounting options are utilised, PPP's stolen seats will be returned. We will not disappoint the people of GB regarding the protection they desire for their rights.
"We think the PPP has won GB's politics; when it comes to forming a government, we are struggling for that," he added.
The PPP leader also thanked the people of GB for turning up to vote, saying their interest during the entire campaign was "a testament to [their] commitment to democracy".
As unofficial results of the hotly contested GB elections were released on Monday, the PTI was leading after having bagged 10 seats, followed by independent candidates who have so far won seven seats.
The PPP was able to win on three seats followed by the PML-N with two seats.
As many as 330 candidates, including four women, were vying for the 24 general seats in the third legislative assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan.