Hours before lawmakers across the country are set to go to polls in the much-anticipated Senate elections 2021, a video surfaced on Tuesday showing the son of Yousuf Raza Gilani, the joint opposition's most prominent candidate for the polls, explaining to lawmakers how to cancel their votes.
The government immediately cried foul, demanding that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) declare Gilani ineligible after the emergence of the video that it said showed "votes being bought". It also filed a reference with the ECP seeking Gilani's disqualification for being involved in "corrupt practices".
PPP leader and former prime minister Gilani, who hails from Multan, has been fielded as a joint candidate of the opposition alliance Pakistan Democratic Movement from Islamabad. His lone competition for the general seat will be Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh of the PTI.
In the night-time video of about one-and-a-half minutes, first shared by ARY News, Gilani's son Ali Haider Gilani can be heard apparently explaining through specific details to at least two lawmakers how they can waste their votes during the election.
The faces of none of the men in the video can be clearly seen and it is not clear whom Ali Haider is talking to or who recorded and leaked the video.
Within minutes of the video being broadcast, the various chapters of the ruling PTI and government spokespersons started tweeting about it, saying the clip had "exposed" Gilani as well as the opposition.
"Yousuf Raza Gilani's son caught buying votes in the Senate and giving away tricks to waste votes. This is the character of the PDM and their joint candidate," a tweet from PTI's official account said.
Speaking to media in Islamabad, Ali Haider accepted that he was in the leaked video, but denied he was engaging in a deal to buy votes for his father.
Addressing a press conference outside the ECP offices in Islamabad, Minister For Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry said the video showed Ali Haider explaining to PTI MNAs how to waste their votes.
The minister said after Ali Haider's "confession" that the video was true, it was the ECP's responsibility to declare Gilani ineligible to contest Wednesday's elections and file a reference against him under Articles 218, 219 and 220 and the Supreme Court's recent judgement on the presidential reference seeking open ballot in the Senate polls.
"But notwithstanding our reference, I hope the chief election commissioner will take notice of this video," Chaudhry added.
He said the SC in its verdict had given clear directions to the ECP to use technology and eliminate money and horse-trading from the elections. But "it is very unfortunate that the ECP said it could not change the method in this election and the video that emerged this very evening proved the ECP's version and point of view wrong," he added, terming the commission's argument "weak".
The PTI later said the ECP had taken notice of the "horse-trading video", and welcomed the move.
Although Chaudhry had said the reference against Gilani would be sent to the ECP on Wednesday morning, PTI MNAs Farrukh Habib and Kanwal Shauzab managed to submit the same late on Tuesday.
The writ petition filed by them seeks Gilani's disqualification "for being guilty of corrupt practices and also for violating the law and the Constitution of Pakistan" as well as "for being involved in criminal activity with corroboration [sic] with his real son".
'I've done nothing wrong'
In his presser, Ali Haider said the MNAs in the video belonged to the PTI and were his "friends".
"They called me [and] I have met them several times. As a candidate's son, it is my right to seek votes," he said, adding that his family only asked for the "vote of conscience" and did not engage in the buying and selling of votes.
Haider said the MNAs which numbered "more than two" told him they wanted to vote for Gilani and not Hafeez Shaikh. "They asked me what should we do if our party is suspicious of us and tries to take away our ballot. [...] I told them if they are given an already marked ballot, they should also mark Gilani's name and put it in the ballot box so that vote neither goes to Hafeez Sheikh nor [Gilani]," he added.
"I think I have done nothing wrong; my conscience is satisfied," he emphasised, saying no video showed him dealing with the MNAs to decide their payments.
Haider said he had been meeting many people as part of his father's election campaign because it was the right of a candidate to ask their constituents — MNAs in this case — for votes.
He alleged that Prime Minister Imran Khan had "bought votes" by doling out funds worth Rs500 million each among government lawmakers. He called upon the ECP to take notice of this "bribe".