Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party was on Monday reported to be leading in the all-important elections of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) — which Islamabad has proclaimed as the country’s “fifth province” — amid claims of irregularities by opposition parties.
As unofficial results of the November 15 election to the 24 general seats in the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly started to pour in, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was in the lead with at least nine seats, with the Pakistan People Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) trailing way behind.
Independent candidates had won seven seats, while the PPP was on third place with three seats, followed by the PML-N with two seats.
At least 330 candidates, including four women, were in the fray.
The voting had begun at 8 a.m. on Sunday and stayed on till 5 p.m. and saw an impressive turnout, despite the chilly weather, with women and the elderly showing up in big numbers.
In some parts including Ghizer, Hunza, Sost and Baltistan, heavy snowfall forced many citizens to be restricted to their homes.
While the overall process of voting went smoothly throughout the day, PPP Vice President Sherry Rehman had alleged that a number of election observers of the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) had been removed from the polling stations before the start of the counting.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also claimed that the election was stolen, calling the election process as “unfair polls”.
“My election has been stolen. I will be joining the people of Gilgit-Baltistan in their protest shortly,” he had tweeted.
Addressing the protest later, he said: “GB Election Commission, which was trusted with conducting a transparent election, had failed to protect the people’s votes and had instead targeted the opposition.”
“Our party will continue its election campaign in the region and will only go back after retaking its stolen seats,” he added.
A similar claim came from PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz Sharif, who alleged that elections were rigged.
“Neither did the PTI have any existence in GB previously nor would it have one now. Few seats the PTI won through begging was due to force, rigging, breaking away PML-N candidates and with the help of selectors,” she said.
The rigging claims by the opposition parties in the GB elections was countered by Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shibli Faraz.
“This was a very transparent election. If PTI wanted to rig the elections, it would have won at least 14-15 seats instead of nine,” he said.
“Actually, the opposition and especially PML-N’s tradition has been of saying that elections which they win are fair and elections which they lose are rigged,” he added.