Interview | Gilgit Baltistan Polls Were Massively Manipulated, Says Former CM
The provincial elections held in Gilgit-Batistam on 15 November, 2020 were different from the previous elections but in some way had similarities with the 2018 general elections of Pakistan. The recently-held GB polls can be called the replica of 2018 general elections as far as the pre polling machinations are concerned. Its uniqueness is that the top leadership of the mainstream political parties participated actively in the election campaign and held rallies in different parts of the province. The two mainstream opposition parties i.e. PPP and PML-N pulled huge crowds in their election rallies but could only bag 3 and 2 seats respectively. The major offset was for the ruling PML-N despite its comparatively good governance and popularity of its Chief Minister Hafiz Hafizurehman.
To know his side of the story, I interviewed the former Chief Minister and president of PML-N Gilgit-Baltistan Hafiz Hafizurehman.
Talimand Khan. You (PML-N) claimed good governance and held beg rallies during the election campaign, then why do you think you faced such defeat in the election?
Hafiz Hufizur Rehman. We are going to bring out a white paper on the election of 15 November, 2020 to share the facts with the people. The maniupulation that took place in the elections of 2018 in the country happened the same way in GB. In contrast,
Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf (PTI) did not even have a proper organizational structure in GB yet it got simple majority. National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was active and our government had been paralyzed six months before the elections by NAB’s act of ceasing all development funds and halting even ongoing developmental work. The situation turned so abysmal and unacceptable that as a protest we decided to dissolve the assembly.
TK. What happened then?
HH. We had then been given some guarantees by COAS General Qamar Bajawa and DG ISI and we did not use the option but the situation remained the same. But, ironically, afterward all the worst began to descend after the appointment of the caretaker CM and the cabinet.
The appointment of the caretaker chief minister was totally a one sided decision. A retired DIG of police was appointed as caretaker chief minister before he was blue-eyed boy of the powerful. No consultations were held by the CM and leader of the opposition. In the month of June we completed our tenure and thus the election was due on August 18 but had been postponed till unknown date that created uncertainty about the elections. Much later, the date of the elections was announced. Meanwhile, loyalties of our six ministers and speaker of the assembly had been bought and three out of them contested elections as independent candidates.
Besides, as per rules, the prime minster and his ministers were not supposed to take part in the election campaign or visit GB during the election but they violated the rules. Apart from the PM, 24 federal ministers visited GB during the elections campaign. The announcement of federal minister Amin Gandapur is on record. While addressing a public rally, he announced that the lead of thousands votes will be returned with thousand crores of rupees. We went to court to stop the federal government’s intervention and use of the state resource to influence the elections but despite the court verdict that continued unabatedly.
TK: Are you satisfied with your party’s role in the polls?
HH: I had been warned to refrain from supporting the narrative of Mian Nawaz Sharif and the party but I refused to comply. Irrespective of the cost, I did what was correct politically and morally. I believe Sharif’s narrative is the need of the time and can put the country on the smooth sale. Moreover, Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s visit to GB during elections was the last straw that broke the camel. I had been told by all powerful quarters not to invite Maryam to GB during elections, but I did.
In my constituency, postal ballots were used as a weapon. 480 postal ballots polled in my favor were missing. 19 members of my family, who were not government employees, were told on the polling day that they had polled their votes through post. In this manner, 1700 were denied to poll their votes on the pretext that they had already polled their votes through ballots.
TK. What do you expect from the new government of GB?
To be honest, the new Chief Minister is a fine and educated man but seems powerless. The powers lies elsewhere. All the cabinet members are the nominee of Gandapur and Safullah Niazi. It is not difficult to guess that the PTI’s governance in GB will not be different than in Pakistan.
The author is a political analyst based in Islamabad.