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Opposition Parties Unite Against Military's Role In By-Election

Seven opposition political political in the northwestern Swat Valley are calling on the Pakistani election commission not to deploy the military during the October by polls.
Seven opposition political political in the northwestern Swat Valley are calling on the Pakistani election commission not to deploy the military during the October by polls.

SWAT, Pakistan -- Seven opposition political parties in a restive northwestern district are opposing the powerful Pakistani military's deployment during the by-elections.

In the picturesque district of Swat this week, leaders of the opposition parties accused the military of orchestrating the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) party's win in the July 25 vote. PTI is now running the central government in Islamabad and the provincial administration in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where Swat is a district.

Politicians from the Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, Qaumi Watan Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Jamiat Ulma-e Islam, and Jammat-e Islami say there was no need for military deployment because of improved security conditions. They pledged to field joint candidates at the polls on October 14, when voters will elect two provincial lawmakers.

The PTI swept Swat in the July election by winning all the three national assembly and eight provincial assembly seats. It later had to vacate two provincial seats after two of its candidates each won two constituencies.

The opposition parties say the landslide was the result of massive rigging by the military, which pulled strings in the name of providing security. The PTI and the military deny involvement in the election results.

"We are demanding the election commission hold this by-election under [the security umbrella] of police, Frontier Corps, and the civilian administration," Sher Shah, a leader of the ANP, told journalists. "The army can provide security everywhere, but they do not need to have any role outside or inside polling stations."

Several parties accused the army of stuffing ballots and changing results in the July vote, when some 300,000 military personnel were deployed to provide security to 100 million voters at polling stations.

"Thank you fellow Pakistanis. World has seen your love and respect for Pak Armed Forces and LEAs [law enforcement agencies] today," military spokesman Asif Ghafoor wrote on Twitter at the time. "You have rejected all kinds of malicious propaganda. We are strong because we have your unflinching support."

In Swat, opposition politicians are not convinced. Irfan Chattan, a PPP leader, argues that nearly a decade after a major military operation that dislodged the Taliban in 2009, peace has taken root in Swat.

"Police are now in control of the entire territory in Swat, and they are capable of fulfilling their role in upholding law and order. It should be possible for them to also provide security during the by-election," he said.

But Fazal Hakim, a provincial lawmaker of the ruling PTI, disagrees. "When the army is deployed, no one can dare to commit rigging or fraud," he told Radio Mashaal.

Hakim says the July election was transparent. "I have seen elections in the past where one person polled more than 100 votes. This one was far better," he said.

Opposition parties in Swat are now waiting to see whether the election commission accepts their demands or goes ahead with deploying the military.

In the October 14 by-election, Pakistani voters will choose 19 provincial and 11 lawmakers for the lower house of the central parliament. The election results are unlikely to alter the central government or four provincial administrations.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Niaz Ahmad Khan's reporting from Swat, Pakistan.