PML-N, partners seen leading in Baluchistan vote in Pakistan

By Abdul Malik Achakzai  |  Updated Dec. 8, 2013 at 10:23 PM
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Dec. 7 QUETTA, Pakistan (UPI Next) -- Initial results in local elections in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province Saturday showed the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the party of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and its partners in the coalition governing the province, the National Party and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, were ahead.

Voters went to the polls to select members of local governing bodies, such as district councils, in the first local balloting since 2005 polling under then-Pakistani military leader Pervez Musharraf. Voting in many areas was conducted under the watchful eyes of armed soldiers and other security forces; about 50,000 troops and police were deployed to secure the balloting process.

Official results are expected Tuesday.

The country’s chief election commissioner, Supreme Court Justice Nasirul Mulk, told reporters at the provincial election commissioner’s office in Quetta Saturday, "The election process remained peaceful and elections in Baluchistan have been a major success."

Baluchistan’s chief minister, Abdul Malik Baloch, the head of the provincial government, told a news conference after the polling was over, "I congratulate the Election Commission of Pakistan, my coalition partners, the army and other security forces for holding successful local government elections across Baluchistan."

Provincial Election Commissioner Syed Sultan Bayazeed told UPI Next that 2,507 candidates ran unopposed, others ran for 4,097 positions. In most areas, voting started at 8 a.m. and concluded at 5 p.m.

Separatist groups such as the Baloch Republican Party, Baloch Liberation Army and Baloch Liberation Front had called for a traffic stoppage and closure of markets, and had appealed to voters not to take part in the election process.

The Baloch Republican Party "has a clear position that Balochistan was illegally occupied by Pakistan and it is still under forceful rule of the state," BRP spokesman Sher Mohammad Bugti told UPI Next in an email interview.

"We do not accept the Pakistani state and its system in Balochistan. We completely condemn and boycott the so-called elections," he said.

Bugti said the BRP "is struggling for an independent, democratic and peaceful Balochistan." Heavy deployment of military troops and security officials were witnessed at polling stations throughout Baluchistan.

In some remote areas, polling staff could not reach the polling stations with election materials such as ballots in time, so polling started late.

In the Haranai district, where incorrect and incomplete voter lists delayed voting for as many as 32,629 registered voters, party political workers were reportedly staging sit-ins. Party workers, joined by local citizens, were said to be staging a sit-in in front of the deputy commissioner’s office against what Mohammad Hanif Tareen, a local political worker, described as incompetence of the election commission.

"The political parties are not allowing the election staff to commence the polling process in the district as more than 50 percent of voters could not exercise their voting rights in favor [of] their union council candidates because of faulty voter lists," he said.

"The postponement of polling prompted the chief election commissioner, who is visiting Quetta for election monitoring, to personally intervene into the matter." Abdul Qayyum, an assistant provincial election commissioner, told UPI Next.

He said the chief election commissioner had directed the area commissioner to visit Harnai district to ensure beginning of polling after resolving the grievances of the political parties.

In addition, cases were reported in which women were barred from voting in some districts. In Naushki, the district administration, after receiving complaints that women had not been allowed to cast their votes, took action to ensure their participation, Bayazeed said.

Six million ballots were distributed in districts overall, and 33,000 staff members covered 5,808 polling stations for the local elections.

"The election completed successfully in 31 districts [out of 32 districts] of Baluchistan. We could not hold elections in Harnai district only, where we have complaints about incorrect voters’ lists," Bayazeed said.

He said the election commission has constituted an inquiry to look into the problem in Harnai. He added that boycotts by separatist groups had not affected voter turnout.

Abdul Rahim Ziaratwal, provincial information minister, told UPI Next that "although the separatists announced boycotts, most of the candidates -- male and female -- from areas of Baluchistan were declared unopposed winners. Otherwise, turnout was also high." Agha Hassan Baloch, information secretary of the Balochistan National Party, another nationalist group, told UPI Next the election commission was not that credible in conducting free and fair elections as the ruling coalition has worked out a plan "to rig the polls."

"I don't think we will have fair results at the end of the day," he said. (Additional reporting: Syed Zubair Sherazi and Matiullah Achakzai)

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