As the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf emerged the biggest winners in polls conducted for the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Legislative Assembly, government officials rubbed their victory in their rivals' faces whereas opposition members raised familiar complaints of rigging.
Federal Information and Broadcasting Minister Fawad Chaudhry said in a tweet that the PTI's "splendid win" was a testament to the "common man's unwavering confidence in Prime Minister Imran Khan".
"The opposition needs to revisit its politics and leadership, [as] people are not willing to accept Nawaz Sharif and [Asif Ali] Zardari [as their leaders]," he tweeted.
Soon after, PML-N Information Secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb was quoted on the party's Twitter account as saying that "25 July 2021 polls in [AJK] were a replay of 2018 [general] elections," which her party has long maintained were rigged.
"The PML-N was leading till the count of the common man's [votes], but when it stopped, vote thieves took the lead," she said in a series of tweets.
She further said that had the PTI won after garnering the votes of "the common man", the PML-N would have been genuinely happy and even congratulated the ruling party.
"The common man does not vote for those who sold out Kashmir" and those responsible for "the rising prices of essential commodities in the country", she said, alleging that "Prime Minister Imran Khan has unwavering belief in stealing votes."
Earlier, PML-N Vice-President Maryam Nawaz had rejected the election result, tweeting that her party would soon decide on a plan of action on the "shameless rigging" in the polls.
In response, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Political Affairs, Shahbaz Gill, tweeted: "What difference does your accepting or rejecting [of the result] make. You did not even accept the ownership of any of the properties [in London]. But then you had to, and you will have to accept this [result] as well."
Federal Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari, meanwhile, termed the PML-N's defeat "a damning indictment of their (the opposition) failure to deliver to the people of AJK and their silence on IIOJK."
PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, however, accused the PTI of rigging and using violence to win the elections.
Making these allegations in a tweet, he lamented that the Election Commission of Pakistan had failed to take action against the ruling party over the violation of election rules and regulations, and added that "despite this, the PPP emerged as the largest opposition party in AJK with 11 seats, up from three seats last time."
Earlier, PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif also alleged that election code was violated and rules of transparency and impartiality were ridiculed in the polls.
He said in a statement that “the people will remember the way the election code was violated and transparency and impartiality were made irrelevant throughout the day.”
Heated, divisive campaigns
The vitriol and exchange of heated words from politicians has been at the centre of the aggressive AJK election campaigns.
From June 25 when PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari took the lead over the opponents in launching the campaign of his party from Dadyal, followed by PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz and federal ministers Ali Amin Gandapur, Murad Saeed and PM Khan, to July 23 when the campaign ended at midnight, the electorate in AJK heard nothing but allegations, counter-allegations and usual mudslinging in rallies.
Violence and clashes
The aggression transpired into violence and clashes on the election day, with at least two PTI workers killed in a clash with PPP activists at a polling station in the Kotli district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
The two PTI activists were shot dead by unidentified persons at a polling station in the jurisdiction of Naarr police station in Charhoi, Kotli, according to police.
In a separate incident, five police constables were injured after Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) activists attacked them with batons at the Dhal Chakhya polling station in AJK's LA-32 constituency, Jhelum valley district SP Riaz Mughal said.
Voting in some polling stations of other constituencies was also temporarily suspended due to incidents of violence, Dawn.com reported. Several people were reportedly injured in clashes and a number of political activists were also detained by the police, according to reports.