Sunni hardliner declared winner in Pakistan election dispute

Maulana Ahmad Ludhianvi, who leads a banned group, won an appeal after losing the seat at Jhang in Punjab

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The head of a group banned by the Pakistani government as a terrorist organization has won a seat in parliament following an election tribunal’s decision, officials said Thursday.

Maulana Ahmad Ludhianvi, who leads the sectarian Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), won an appeal after losing the seat at Jhang in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, during last May’s general election.

The hardline Sunni Muslim ASWJ is widely seen as a front for Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a group formed in the 1980s and responsible for murdering hundreds of Shiite Muslims whom they consider heretics.

The interior ministry banned ASWJ as a terrorist group in 2012, but it operates freely in Pakistan and its banners are frequently seen at rallies.

Ludhianvi ran on the ticket of the six-party religious alliance Muttahida Deeni Mahaz (United Religious Front), which did not win a seat in the May 2013 vote.

Shaikh Mohammad Akram of the Pakistan Muslim League-N party, which came to power nationally in the election, won the ballot in Jhang. But the tribunal disqualified him for rigging the vote and defaulting on a loan.

“A tribunal gave its decision yesterday and de-seated the winner Shaikh Mohammad Akram and declared Maulana Ludhianvi the winner, who was the runner up in the election,” Mehboob Anwer, election commissioner for Punjab province, told AFP.

Younas Qasmi, a close aide to Ludhianvi, said the workers of his organization were elated after hearing the decision and distributed sweets in the city to celebrate the victory.

He said Ludhianvi had appealed against Akram because he was a loan defaulter who cannot contest elections under Pakistani laws and had also rigged the election.

Akram told AFP he would challenge the tribunal’s ruling in the Supreme Court.

ASWJ is known as the political arm of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, one of the most active terror groups in Pakistan and responsible for a string of bloody attacks on Shiites.

There has been a rise in sectarian violence in Pakistan after several deadly clashes between Sunni and Shiite Muslim groups near Islamabad in November last year.

Ahead of last year’s election Ludhianvi said he wanted to be elected so he could spread what he called his “anti-Shiite mission” to a national audience.

Shiites make up around 20 percent of Pakistan’s population, which is largely Sunni.