The predictable and messy result in the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) general election on 15 November has fascinating implications for the future of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) that aims to throw the army out of politics and regain political space. The crushing defeat of the opposition parties was predictable only in the sense that it was a given the Pakistan army would go all out to rig the election, as usual.
And it has historically always been easier to do so in GB than the rest of Pakistan because of GB being a virtual colony not of Pakistan, but of the Pakistan army. The people and the ‘electables’ are perceived to be resigned to joining the army’s blue eyed party of the day in any given general election.
Projection Versus Reality in Galgit Baltistan Polls
Independent assessments, about a month ahead of election time, projected the PPP to emerge as the largest vote bagger.
- Pakistan People’s Party 10 seats
- Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) 08 seats
- Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf 03 seats
Given a fair and free election, the Pakistan Democratic Movement coalition was projected to comfortably form a coalition government even without the two seats that independent candidates were expected to win.
However, since independent candidates always go with the winners, the PDM coalition would have still bagged a total of 20 seats out of 24 (directly elected) in the legislative assembly of the semi-autonomous state.
The actual hilarious result however, with counts and recounts still ongoing, is that Imran Khan’s PTI has bagged seven seats (claiming 10), Bilawal led PPP three (claiming 5), the PML (N) two (given up and left the building), and independent candidates have won a whopping seven seats. And unexpectedly, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) has won two seats, and a religious alliance, the Majlis-e-Wehdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) has also won one seat.
Messy Results in Galgit Baltistan and Way Forward for Pakistan Democratic Movement
Given the complete shambles, and 17 seats required to form government, there is still no telling who will actually form the government in GB. Given my sense that none of the PDM partners would betray each other when it comes to forming a government, even if the PTI bags all the independents and the MWM, the army (sic) will still not be able to form a government in GB. It will still remain two seats short of the 17 seats required to do so.
Nor will the PDM be able to do so with its 8 seats. Personally, I see a deadlock. Only one seat has to have a by-election because the candidate died of Corona in the run-up to the election. But even if the winner joins the PTI, the army still remains one seat short.
In some ways the mess is delightful. Because it bodes well for the overarching PDM alliance that has bigger objectives for this country than winning a comparatively insignificant election in GB
It has hard lessons for the PDM, which it is high time it learnt.
Deception in Pakistan Army’s ‘Jeans’
The story started purportedly with Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and the PPP. For some extremely odd reason, Bilawal was actually expecting to win this election—he suspended the PDM momentum and scooted off to GB almost a month ahead of election date and entrenched himself there, forcing Maryam Nawaz to follow suit.
His party says he was assured of fairness and neutrality by the army. Others say he did a ‘deal’ with the army. That is, the army would let him win GB and in return he would stab the PDM in the back. Whether he actually believed the brass or was testing them out is irrelevant. He found out that deception was in their (the army’s) ‘jeans’ (sic). His tone became shrill after the losses. And hopefully he has now realized that the leopard will not change its spots, ever.
After all, the army did the same with the PML(N) in GB. The same leopard got the PML(N) Chief Minister to give harsh statements against the PPP on Election Day, in return for a win later that night. And then took the seat and the entire election away from him. And in the end the winner, PTI, took all. It was a delicious lesson to all. Yet again. And one hopes they have learnt something this time.
Will Pakistan Democratic Movement Stop Being Naive Now?
What should have happened to begin with was for the 11 party PDM alliance was to have boycotted the election at the outset. When it is clear that the army is clearly in the position of rigging, you neither make deals with it, nor trust it to allow a fair election. You throw a fit and make life impossible for everyone around. You boycott and declare the election illegitimate, thereby laying the foundation for sending any illegitimately selected government packing soon as you come into power in the center. You lay the foundation for holding fresh pre-term elections in a hotly contested sensitive area.
That not having happened, the humiliating defeat in the election nevertheless most likely finally made the penny drop.
If the penny has indeed dropped, it will most likely result in the PDM alliance, ripped of illusions or naïveté with regard to the Pakistan army and its commitments, renew and reaffirm its commitment to unity and the larger struggle for a democratic Pakistan.
If it hasn’t dropped, and the PDM is unsuccessful in achieving its ends for whatever reason, Pakistan is on its way to becoming North Korea sooner than later.
For now though, my contention is that the army’s win in GB will result in its ultimate loss in the battle for Pakistan.
(Gul Bukhari is a Pakistani journalist and rights activist. She tweets @GulBukhari. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)