Gilgit-Baltistan Goes to Vote

Posted on November 12, 2009
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Politics
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Adil Najam

Today is a good day for democracy in Pakistan. The Gilgit-Baltistan region goes to poll for the first time to elect a legislative chamber of their own. Full franchise needs to be extended to each and every Pakistani, everywhere in Pakistan. One hopes that this step will be extended soon to other parts of Pakistan that remain without direct and full adult franchise.

The political implications of this step can be far reaching both for Pakistan and even beyond Pakistan. I personally think that the designation of Gilgit-Baltistan as an autonomous region is a first step towards the inevitability of the existing four provinces being sub-divided into a larger number of provinces. That prospect alone makes the political importance of this step far-reaching.

It may be too early to predict the shape of possible implications, but it is timely to think about steps than will ensure that these implications are positive for the Gilgit-Baltistan region and for the country as a whole. What is already interesting is to watch the political dynamics unleashed by these elections. Given that new ‘electoral capital’ is being created with the creation of a new Assembly, new seats, and new regional power players, it is not surprising that established political players in the rest of the country are putting their all into these elections. The biggest names in Pakistan politics are all traveling North to make sure that their party can capture this new ‘electoral capital’ and gain the advantage in future elections. This, itself, is a good sign.

The editorial in Dawn, gets it right:

AMID the disquieting news from elsewhere in the country, there is a glimmer of hope in the form of the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly elections scheduled for tomorrow. Twenty-three seats will be contested in the new-look assembly following the federal government’s Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, and the contests have attracted an impressive array of national political leaders who have gone to the area to campaign for their local candidates. Despite the push by national parties, local politics and personalities are expected to play an influential role in the elections and therefore it is difficult to predict the results. Having said that, the PPP and the PML-N (and its rump, the PML-Q) have traditionally been the dominant players and that pattern is expected to continue. The PPP will likely be boosted by the Self-Governance Order and the usual ploy of doling out state patronage in the run-up to elections. The MQM is a new player in the area and may pick up a couple of seats on the back of enticements offered to Baltistanis living in Karachi. Many, if not most, Pakistanis will be unaware of the steadily growing influence of religious extremism in the area and one positive of the high-profile campaigning by mainstream political parties may be that the space gained by extremists will be gradually rolled back.

The elections, though, will be no panacea. The usual campaign promises have been made by candidates, but the socio-economic problems are serious. For example, Gilgit city has no sewerage system or major hospital, issues that have not drawn the attention of candidates. Meanwhile, in the Ghanche district of Baltistan, a major demand of the people is the re-opening of the Kargil-Ladakh route so that families separated by the LoC can reunite or meet again, but candidates have shied away from the issue. Additionally, the federally dominated Gilgit-Baltistan Council is expected to wield the real power and the Self-Governance Order is a halfway house between local governance and full-fledged constitutional and provincial status. Still, the elections are a start and a much-needed fillip in a country reeling from dismal news.

More details on the election, from a news report in The News:

Over 7,17,286 voters will elect members of the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly today (Thursday). More than 250 candidates are taking part in the election being held in 23 constituencies out of 24. There would be no polling in constituency GB-19 where election was postponed due to the demise of MQM candidate Sher Bahadur Khan. According to the Election Commission, 3,32,377 female and 3,84,909 male voters would cast their votes to elect 23 members for the assembly.

The Election Commission has made elaborate arrangements to ensure smooth conduct of election. It has set up 982 polling stations in all six districts of Gilgit-Baltistan, of which 253 are reserved for women while 258 for male voters. Besides 511 mixed polling stations, the Election Commission has declared 153 polling stations sensitive and 119 stations very sensitive. An election cell and a control room have also been established to address complaints or give information about the polls. Moreover, in order to conduct the election in a smooth manner, 24 returning officers and 25 assistant returning officers have been deployed while more than 3,000 polling staff has also been assigned duties on the polling day.

Foolproof security measures have been adopted under which around 5,000 security staff is deployed at the polling stations, especially the sensitive and highly sensitive stations. Two battalions of the Army have been called and moved to different areas of the region. Army soldiers would be available on a call in case of any emergency. Meanwhile, political activities and election campaign ended at midnight on Wednesday under the election order. The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) of the area, Rahim Nawaz Khan Durrani, has directed all the district election commissioners and polling staff to ensure on time arrival at their respective stations.

20 responses to “Gilgit-Baltistan Goes to Vote”

  1. ejazbaleevi says:

    GB election was not free,fair election that’s why most of candidates elected from the major party of central govt.even most of candidates were not illegible.

  2. Meengla says:

    Thank you for posting Iqbal Haider’s interview link. Much appreciated. I watched it fully. Unlike you I do not rule out the possibility that a sitting govt. will try to ‘influence’ elections in Pakistan. Would not be the first or last time, sadly.
    1) However, even Mr. Haider disappointed Kamran of GEO by citing violence at ‘one polling station’ and hence 2 dead. And you should know that Mr. Haider and his kind of truly admirable Human Rights Watch Groups would find ‘flaws’ in almost all electioneering processes throughout the world. It is their duty to find deviance from the ideals and I admire them. But even they, according to another report, have conceded that the elections were largely ‘peaceful’ and perhaps even fair, by Pakistani standards anywhere. Do you want me to quote that? Do you really think I. Haider is calling to annul the whole elections? I think not, much to your disappointment.
    2) Would you like to explain as to how, in case you support Tonga Party Taliban Imran Khan as your choice, why PTI fielded only 2 candidates for the 24 seats? Was there a gag order? Or Iman’s surgery would cripple his entire party? Any other excuses? Would you, in the same vein, care to explain as to how no political party fielded candidates for most seats except the PPP? May be these political parties were not sure if they could even find candidates for all the seats in contest–say a lot, doesn’t it? Really, think before you anwer about it.
    3) What would you say about PMLQ–the self-proclaimed true Opposition Party in current parliament–has accepted the elections results, albeit with ‘reservations’. Yeah, the same reservations as PPP’s for the 2008 elections.
    4) Do you no think that it would not be very hard to influence the locals with lofty promises in the first-ever Legislative Elections in the erstwhile Northern Areas? I bet if PMLN was in power and had granted limited autonomy and the moon the locals would have been significantly influenced by that too.
    5) Did you not think that the Shia voters who form a bulk of voters in G-B would go for the PPP considering the religious minorities (and that, in Pakistani context, can include Shia Muslims as well) go for PPP in general?

    Oh, please!! If you are going to quote Iqbal Haider–who is likely to criticise elections for the Papacy in the Vaticans on some grounds–then you should quote ‘the real’ players like Ch. Shujaat Hussain of PMLQ who has accepted the elections results.

    But, too bad, you still think this is 1977. Quite a time warp there is that cocoon around you guys.

  3. Aqil says:

    Even Iqbal Haider is saying that there has been rigging on a large scale:
    Meengla, now go ahead and accuse him of being a right wing, pro-Taliban, PPP hating anti democracy conspirator :)

  4. Meengla says:

    1) These elections in Gilgit-Baltistan can’t be any worse than status quo, could they? I mean, major political forces from Pakistan put their weight behind their candidates and that can only mean, in future, G-B (should it be ‘GB’?) get integrated into the ‘mainstream’ Pakistan eventually?
    2) Is there significant ‘rigging’ in these elections? I think not–not in the sense of Karzai’s 1/3rd votes anyway. One can say that Acting Governer Kaira and PM Gilani promised the locals a moon but then who doesn’t in Pakistan (or perhaps the rest of South Asia) prior to the elections? Even then, didn’t Pervez Elahi as Chief Minister offer a lot in Punjab prior to Feb. 2008 elections but he still lost?
    3) Are these elections a precursor to Pakistan accepting the Line of Control = International Border in Kashmir? I don’t think it is a coincidence that Musharraf was accused of having ‘sold’ (or ‘betrayed’) Kashmir to India and that PPP govt. is being accused of following Musharraf’s foreign policy (which were/are correct, IMHO).
    4) Yes, as someone above says, FATA next. No more of these 19th century enclaves of tribalism. No more of these eletricity supplies without payments. M.A. Jinnah would not have promised the tribals uncontrolled, uninhibited autonomies had he seen how these ‘hospitable’ tribals welcomed the Talibans and AlQaida into their midst. Pakistan has 170+ million people. It does not need some 19th century freeloaders to guard its frontier with Afghanistan.

  5. Kamran says:

    I am very glad that these elections went well. Now we must extend full elections to the tribal areas too. Lets get ALL Pakistanis fully in Pakistan and treat all Pakistanis and full rights Pakistanis.

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