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Pakistan: Imran Khan's PTI-backed candidates to join Sunni Ittehad Council, vows to form govt

As Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto's parties seemed on course to form a coalition government, Imran Khan's PTI made its own efforts by allying with MWM and SIC to form the governments. The party has alleged that PML-N and PPP are trying to steal the people's mandate with the Army's help.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Islamabad Updated on: February 19, 2024 17:33 IST
Pakistan, Pakistan elections, Imran Khan, Sunni Ittehad, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf
Image Source : AP Imran Khan's supporters in Pakistan protest against rigging in elections

Islamabad: Jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) will join hands with the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) to try and form the governments in the Centre, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. This comes after PTI collaborated with Majlis Wahdat-i-Muslimeen (MWM) but failed to negotiate a deal with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F).

PTI leader Barrister Gohar Ali Khan has said the party has reached a “formal agreement” with the Sunni Ittehad Council and the same would be submitted to the Election Commission of Pakistan on Monday. "Our candidates in the National Assembly, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies will join the Sunni Ittehad Council," he added.

"You know that there are 70 reserved seats in the National Assembly and there are 227 reserved seats in the entire country. These seats are only provided to political parties. Therefore, to protect our reserved seats and provide the cover to our members, we have reached a formal agreement under which all our candidates have joined the party and we will present this documentation before the ECP," he added.

PTI's PM candidate Omar Ayub Khan said his party wants unity in the country and therefore party-backed candidates have decided to join the Sunni Ittehad Council in the Centre and all provinces. “This is because the quota of reserved seats lies with political parties. Coming together with the Sunni Ittehad Council would increase the PTI’s strength in the National Assembly,” he said, adding that after joining the SIC and form the government, the party's first priority would be to release Imran Khan, his wife Bushra Bibi, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and other members of PTI's senior leadership.

Support for Imran Khan unconditional: SIC

Sunni Ittehad Council leader Hafiz Hamid Raza on Monday said his party’s alliance with the PTI dates back nearly eight years, Dawn reported. "I want to clarify that this is not a single-handed decision. It includes the approval of PTI leadership and Imran Khan,” he said. Raza added that SIC and Majlis Wahdat-i-Muslimeen were two parties that had always opposed sectarian violence and did not believe in militancy. “I want to clarify one more thing that our support of Imran Khan and the PTI is unconditional and without any demand,” the SIC leader added. 

The Imran Khan-led party has maintained that it has won 180 National Assembly seats in the February 8 elections and many of its seats were "stolen". Gohar said the PTI won 115 seats in Punjab, 16 in Sindh, 42 in KP, and four in Balochistan. "In Balochistan, we have one seat; three are due. In Sindh, we did not get even a single seat. In Punjab, we are due about 50 seats," he added.

PTI's efforts to form government

As its rivals Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) were set to form a coalition government, PTI previously collaborated with the MWM in Punjab and at the federal level. The winning independent candidates had to join a party within 3 days after the notification of the results.

However, the deal with MWM seemingly fell through due to apparent criticism from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa-based leaders of the PTI, who had opposed the idea on "sectarian grounds", according to party insiders. However, this was not confirmed by the PTI on record. 

A PTI leader told Dawn that the MWM had not submitted a list of reserved candidates to the ECP before the elections, which could create problems for the merger. They claimed that the decision to align with the SIC was taken to avoid any "adverse decisions" by the Election Commission of Pakistan.

The Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) rejected an alliance with PTI. JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman categorically dismissed the prospect of forming an alliance with the Imran Khan-led party citing insurmountable differences. Despite this, PTI leaders vowed to form governments, with Omar Ayub that 30 million votes were polled for PTI-backed candidates even without its electoral symbol of ‘bat’. 

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where PTI-backed candidates won 84 seats, the party faces an uphill battle amid differences in merging PTI-Parliamentarians with the PTI-P faction, prompting outreach to other political entities such as the Jamiat Ulama-i-Islam-Nazryati and Tehreek-i-Inqilab.

Though independent candidates backed by the party won the maximum number of seats in Parliament, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) - have announced that they will form a coalition government after the February 8 elections resulted in a hung Parliament.

Imran's beleaguered party received a major boost on Saturday when a senior government official in charge of the election process in the garrison city of Rawalpindi alleged that rigging took place and dragged the Chief Election Commissioner and the Chief Justice into it. Buoyed by the allegations of vote rigging, the PTI on Sunday demanded a judicial probe into the manipulation of the results of the elections.

About Sunni Ittehad Council

The Sunni Ittehad Council, an alliance of Islamic political and regional parties in Pakistan, was formed in 2009 by Sahibzada Hamid Raza. It groups politicians and clerics from Pakistan's traditionalist Barelvi Muslim movement, often referred to as theological moderates in the Pakistani context, according to Dawn.

The Council rose to prominence by leading demonstrations in support of the killer of Salman Taseer, a governor who was killed a year ago for his criticism of anti-blasphemy laws. Taseer's assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was a Barelvi. At its rallies, the group maintained its criticism of the Taliban and issued a fatwa against Taliban gunmen who tried to kill Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai.

A report revealed that the council received money from the US, receiving $36,607 in 2009. A US diplomat said that the embassy had given money to the group to organise anti-Taliban rallies, but that it had since changed direction and leadership by supporting Qadri. 

(with PTI inputs)


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