All eyes on hotly contested Gilgit-Baltistan polls today

Published November 15, 2020
This photo shows a polling station in Nagar. — DawnNewsTV
This photo shows a polling station in Nagar. — DawnNewsTV
This photo shows a polling station in GB. — DawnNewsTV
This photo shows a polling station in GB. — DawnNewsTV

ISLAMABAD: Amid the threat of Covid-19, people in Gilgit-Baltistan are heading to vote on Sunday (today) in what could be the most hotly contested election the region has ever seen.

The polls assumed much significance this time as the two main opposition parties held a vigorous campaign. These elections could serve as a test case for the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) as well as the two opposition party leaders — Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Maryam Nawaz.

As many as 330 candidates, including four women, are vying for the 24 general seats in the third legislative assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan.

With political temperature hitting boiling point, leaders of the three major parties organised public gatherings in various parts of the region, firing salvos against each other while ignoring around 100 notices issued by the Gilgit-Baltistan Election Commission over violation of code of conduct.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who stayed in the region for weeks, has been leading his party’s campaign.

330 candidates in the run; 745,361 voters in region; women form 45.61pc of total electorates

Prime Minister Imran Khan also reached Gilgit to attend a ceremony held on the occasion of the Independence Day of Gilgit-Baltistan where he announced that the area would soon be given a provisional status of province. Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan Ali Amin Gandapur, Communications Minister Murad Saeed as well as Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) vice president Maryam Nawaz also actively participated in the campaign.

According to political analysts, a tough battle is expected between PTI and PPP.

For the upcoming polls, which were earlier scheduled to be held in August but were postponed due to the pandemic, PPP has fielded 23 candidates with 21 aspirants representing PML-N.

The PTI has made seat adjustment with Majlis-i-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM) on two constituencies.

The party has also been strengthened with the recent joining of local leaders. Seasoned politician Fida Mohammad Nashad is one of them and has been awarded the party ticket.

Mr Nashad had served as the legislative assembly’s speaker after the 2015 elections. Other former PML-N ministers and assembly members who have joined PTI include Dr Mohammad Iqbal, Haider Khan and Ibrahim Sanai.

A recent Gallup Pakistan survey showed that PTI was in a strong position followed by the PPP.

Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), formally known as the Federally Administered Northern Areas, is an autonomous region with a separate governance and electoral framework.

The total number of registered voters in the region is 745,361 with 450,305 males and 339,998 females. Women constitute 45.61 per cent of the total electorates.

In the 2015 elections, the total number of voters stood at 618,364, with 329,475 men and 288,889 women. The proportion of women voters at that time was 46.71 per cent, which means that the gap between male and female voters in the region has increased by 1.10 per cent in the past five years.

Interesting contests are expected in some constituencies.

In GBLA-2 (Gilgit), former chief minister Hafizur Rehman of the PML-N and PPP’s Jamil Ahmed will face each other for the third time.

In 2015, Hafeezur Rahman had defeated Jamil Ahmed, while in 2009 both lost to Deedar Ali, an independent candidate.

In GBLA-10, Wazir Hassan of the PTI and Mohammad Sikandar Ali of the Islami Tehreek Pakistan (ITP), who have also been contesting against each other since 2009, are in the run again.

In 2009, Wazir Hassan, who was a PPP candidate back then, defeated independent Raja H. Khan Maqnoon and Mohammad Sikandar of the PML-Q. In 2015, Mohammad Sikandar contested the polls on Islami Tehreek Pakistan’s ticket and won. Nasir Abdullah of MWM was runner-up while Wazir Hassan (PPP) and Najaf Ali of PTI were also in the race.

This time, Wazir Hassan is a PTI candidate and will be facing Wazir Mohammad Khan and Mohammad Sikandar.

Chief of Baltistan National Front (BNF) Nawaz Khan Naji, an ardent supporter for the region’s autonomy, remained successful both in 2009 and 2015 polls. He is vying for a seat from the GBLA-19 constituency once again.

In GBLA-7 (Skardu) Mohammad Abbas of the ITP will be competing against his uncle, Raja Zakria Khan, who has been fielded by PTI. Others in the contest are former GB chief minister Syed Mehdi Shah who had won the seat back in 2009 but lost it in 2015.

Elections have been delayed in GBLA-3 following the death of PTI Gilgit-Baltistan President retired Justice Jaffer Shah from coronavirus.

PTI has now given the ticket to Jaffer Shah’s son after facing severe criticism over its earlier decision to grant ticket to former minister Dr Iqbal, who left PML-N and joined PTI.

Despite joining PTI formally, Dr Iqbal would be contesting the election as an independent candidate.

In a latest development, Tehreek-i-Nifaz-i-Fiqh-i-Jafria extended its support to PPP in the Gilgit-Baltistan elections.

Meanwhile, the Gilgit-Baltistan government has announced standard operating procedures to deal with coronavirus threat at the polling stations.

Voters will be required to maintain a distance of six feet from each other during the polling.

According to the GB home secretary, 8,000 bags containing face covers, masks, gloves and sanitisers were being dispatched for the polling staff.

Over half of the polling stations established in Gilgit-Baltistan have already been categorised sensitive.

Out of 1,141 polling stations, 577 were declared sensitive and 297 highly sensitive.

Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2020

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