THE Gilgit-Baltistan elections have delivered little surprise. Despite the spirited campaign by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Maryam Nawaz, the GB electorate has chosen to vote as per convention for the party ruling in Islamabad. The final results show the independent candidates also winning in large numbers. Many of them are expected to join hands with the PTI helping it form the government in GB.
The PPP has also done fairly well while the PML-N has trailed the others, with one key reason being the exodus of some important electable candidates from its ranks prior to the elections. These elections saw unprecedented levels of campaigning as well as wide media coverage because they took place in the backdrop of a larger political confrontation between the PTI and the opposition alliance PDM. The reactions to the results therefore are as unsurprising as the results themselves. The PTI says the poll outcome has buried the opposition’s narrative; the PPP and PML-N say the results are a product of electoral rigging.
Neither may hold fully. The opposition may cry foul at alleged electoral malpractices but unless it can come up with some solid evidence, its accusations will stay confined to political jalsas and TV talk shows. Similarly, the PTI will gloat that the opposition’s campaign will be deflated because of its loss in GB, but this claim too will echo into ultimate oblivion across the mountains and valleys of Gilgit, Skardu and Nagar. In the plains of Punjab, KP and Sindh, the PDM’s campaign against the government is not likely to suffer any adverse impact.
In fact, it may get buoyed by the fresh ammunition of rigging which the PDM will use to weaponise its rhetoric for the upcoming rallies. After a three-week break for the GB elections, the PDM kicks off its campaign in Peshawar next week followed by jalsas in Multan, Lahore and Larkana. These high-octane events will further raise the political temperature and vitiate the already toxic environment. If GB elections were expected to release some pressure, this is not likely to happen. There is cause for worry. The PPP was seen as being more flexible in its approach towards the establishment compared to the rigid stance of the PML-N but the GB elections have provided the PPP leadership a reason to clench its fists. Mr Bhutto-Zardari has already declared that the elections have been stolen.
Given this tense situation, and the intensifying war of words over the next few weeks, it would be advisable for saner elements on all sides to take a step back. They may want to lower the temperature through better cooperation and coordination in parliament. Some form of dialogue needs to happen and parliament is the most relevant forum for it. The government should take the initiative in this regard without further delay.
Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2020