Sunday, November 15, 2009

Polls!! Gilgit-Baltistan

The first ever polls of Gilgit-Baltistan were held on 12th November 2009. The polls were largely peaceful and held in an atmosphere that rest of the Pakistanis and the media had started to envy. Needless to say, it was not to last. As the poll results started coming in, the tone and stance of media and political parties began to change. In a couple of hours into the evening it turned into a large scale government bashing competition. Anchors and academics alike were expressing their amazement at the PPP victory. In a television show where some of the most eminent Urdu columnist express their views, were trying so hard to compete with their fellow media stars that it became unbearable. Half the conversation was based on how it was not a surprise that PPP managed to win as it had historical ties and the nature of the people in the area after all has been to vote for Islamabad, the other half consisted of rigging allegations. Their arguments were self contradictory as are of many others who have taken up the task of high lighting the supposed dis-enfranchisement of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Media due to it's endless appetite for controversies or its inherent detesting of a civilian government has come to the rescue of MQM, PML-N and Q, high lighting their case ten times the merit. It is thus only reasonable that the situation be objectively. This is thus a simple analysis that should provide some guidance to those cry fowl.

The allegations include pre-poll rigging, missing names in voting lists, violence at polling station and use of state machinery. The proof apart from eye witnesses restricted who are party members: the fact that they did not win as many seats as they expected.

The MQM puts a conservative estimate of their seats at 5, PML-N five to eight and PML-Q eight to ten. This puts the total number 5+5+8, a staggering eighteen seats. Two seats in Diamier region fall under Pakhtoon influence and were called by JUI-F. That leaves three seats on the platter for PPP. The stances are unbelievable and even more is the attitude of media projecting them.

PPP which had been winning a quarter of seats in every past elections was expected to give a worse performance this year. Wishful thinking it maybe, but media did a good job of defamation out of the Kerry-Lugar bill and then NRO. To make the matters fool proof, it did not project the PPP campaign, except the public address of the prime minister, it carefully limited the election footage to rallies of MQM and PML-Q. Surprisingly apart from Nawaz Sharif's addresses the PML-N campaign was for some reason largely boycotted by the independent(read biased) Urdu news channels. Rallies of PPP workers like Khurshid Shah and Chaudary Manzoor were not shown even once where as their counterparts Marvi Memon and Haider Abbas Rizvi of MQM kept beaming at the cameras. I for one was pretty confused as to why were PPP candidates not campaigning as hard. It was not until I glanced over an Urdu daily that I came to know that many PPP workers were indeed campaigning, some as hard as the energetic Ms Memon.

The opposition parties and MQM are still in disbelief, a simple listing of what PPP had to offer, versus the other parties would do well to uncover the implausibility of their arguments.

MQM offered the people a provincial status, PML-N and Q more rights! PPP on the other hand actually gave them rights. All three major legal reforms were done by the PPP governments. No matter how short or long PPP governments, symbolized empowerment and change. The other three as people saw it, MQM has been part of all the six previous governments, PML-Q just ruled for a de facto eight years and PML-N during it tenure passed plenty a constitutional amendments for its own needs, none for Gilgit-Baltistan.

Pre-poll rigging charges are being thrown at the prime minister for his announcements of welfare projects. Obviously the fact that Sharif brothers announced projects for their benefit, is somehow different. The only difference is that they had or rather wanted to offer little, fifty seats in med-schools do not look pretty when announced in election rallies and certainly do not lure 700,000 voters who would never get admissions any way due to their age and lack literacy.

The allegation of using state machinery is rather funny. On one hand Babar Ghauri, Haider Abbas Rizvi, Senator Nisar Memon, Nawaz Sharif and CM Punjab were all travelling with protocol in state vehicles, but it only counts when the acting governor uses state conveyance? The fact that a nuber independents were being helped by the local administration some at behest of judges is another story.

Marvi Memon goes on to state that she had been campaigning for more time then anyone else, then how could PPP change that in such a short time through a less forceful campaign. Well, surprise! surprise! it turns out that PPP did just stump you out. Rhetoric apart, where she had been campaigning for three onths, the PPP had been campaigning for thirty years. All the former chairpersons especially Ms Nusrat Bhutto paid a personal attention to the area. They did not wait unlike the rest to wait for election time.

It is, however, confusing as to why is MQM complaining, it did a good job of raking plenty votes, giving a tough time to many other parties. It is evident it galloped the urban vote which, traditionally is the domain of a PML faction in power. It can only be assumed that it's out off rhetoric, the seat they were sure of winning LA-3 was won by an independent candidate, who is the brother of a local judge.

All in all, PPP had a good all-weather loyal vote bank, with the local tradition of cozying up to the government in Islamabad, lack luster campaign by PML-N and the last five year rule at center by PML-Q and MQM which ignored the plight of the local population, meant that PPP was in better position then ever to win this election. The only thing surprising was the reaction of the media and opposition, but whom am I kidding, was it!

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