ISLAMABAD: In the midst of the Covid-19 threat, on Sunday (today), people in Gilgit-Baltistan are going to vote in what may be the most heatedly fought election the area has ever seen.
This time, the polls took on a lot of meaning as a concerted effort was taken out by the two major opposition parties. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) as well as the two opposition party leaders, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Maryam Nawaz, could serve as a test case for these elections Gilgit-Baltistan.
In the third legislative assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan, as many as 330 candidates, including four women, are running for the 24 general seats.
Leaders of the three major parties held public meetings in separate parts of the area with political temperatures reaching a boiling point, firing salvos against each other while ignoring over 100 notices released by the Gilgit-Baltistan Election Commission on the breach of the code of ethics.
330 candidates in the run; 745,361 voters in region; women form 45.61pc of total electorates
Prime Minister Imran Khan also arrived in Gilgit to attend a ceremony held on the occasion of the Gilgit-Baltistan Independence Day where he declared that the city would soon be granted provisional provincial status. Ali Amin Gandapur, Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan, Murad Saeed, Minister of Communications, and Maryam Nawaz, Vice President of the Muslim League of Pakistan (PML-N), were also actively involved in the movement.
A tough fight between the PTI and the PPP is expected, according to political analysts.
PPP has fielded 23 candidates with 21 aspirants representing PML-N for the forthcoming elections, which were originally scheduled to be held in August but were postponed due to the pandemic.
With Majlis-i-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM) in two constituencies, the PTI has made seat changes.
With the latest accession of local officials, the party has also been expanded. Fida Mohammad Nashad, a veteran politician, is one of them and was given the party ticket.
After the 2015 elections, Mr Nashad served as the speaker of the legislative assembly. Dr Mohammad Iqbal, Haider Khan and Ibrahim Sanai are the other former PML-N ministers and assembly members who have joined PTI.
A recent Gallup Pakistan survey revealed that, led by the PPP, PTI was in a good spot.
Formally known as the Federally Controlled Northern Territories, Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) is an autonomous territory with a distinct government and electoral structure.
With 450,305 males and 339,998 females, the total number of eligible voters in the district is 745,361. 45.61 per cent of the national electorate is made up of women.
The overall number of electors stood at 618,364 in the 2015 elections, including 329,475 men and 288,889 women. At that time, the percentage of female voters was 46.71 percent, which means that in the last five years, the difference between male and female voters in the country has risen by 1.10 percent.
In certain constituencies, exciting contests are expected.
The former PML-N Chief Minister Hafizur Rehman and the PPP’s Jamil Ahmed will meet each other for the third time in GBLA-2 (Gilgit).
Hafeezur Rahman beat Jamil Ahmed in 2015, although they both lost to an independent candidate, Deedar Ali, in 2009.
In GBLA-10, PTI’s Wazir Hassan and Islami Tehreek Pakistan’s (ITP) Mohammad Sikandar Ali, who have both been vying against each other since 2009, are again in the running
In 2009, independent Raja H. Khan Maqnoon and Mohammad Sikandar of the PML-Q were defeated by Wazir Hassan, who was a PPP candidate back then. Mohammad Sikandar challenged and won the elections on Islami Tehreek Pakistan’s ticket in 2015. MWM’s Nasir Abdullah was runner-up, while Wazir Hassan (PPP) and PTI’s Najaf Ali were in the race as well.
Wazir Hassan is a candidate for the PTI this time and will face Wazir Mohammad Khan and Mohammad Sikandar.
Nawaz Khan Naji, leader of the Baltistan National Front (BNF), an avid supporter of the autonomy of the region, remained popular in both the 2009 and 2015 elections. He is once again running for a seat in the GBLA-19 district.
Mohammad Abbas of the ITP will play in GBLA-7 (Skardu) against his uncle, Raja Zakria Khan, who was shot by PTI. Former GB Chief Minister Syed Mehdi Shah, who claimed the seat back in 2009 but losing it in 2015, is also in the fray.
Elections were deferred in GBLA-3 after the death of retired Justice Jaffer Shah, President of PTI Gilgit-Baltistan, from coronavirus.
After facing extreme criticism over its previous decision to award the ticket to former Minister Dr Iqbal, who left PML-N and joined PTI, PTI has now offered the ticket to Jaffer Shah’s son.
While Dr. Iqbal will officially join PTI, he would contest the election as an independent candidate.
In a recent development, in the Gilgit-Baltistan elections, Tehreek-i-Nifaz-i-Fiqh-i-Jafria has extended its support to the PPP.
Meanwhile the government of Gilgit-Baltistan has announced normal operating procedures at polling stations to deal with the coronavirus threat.
During the polls, electors would be expected to maintain a gap of six feet from each other.
For the polling staff, 8,000 bags containing face covers, caps, gloves and sanitisers were sent, according to the GB home secretary.
Over half of the polling stations built in Gilgit-Baltistan have already been categorised responsive.
Out of 1,141 polling stations, 577 have been deemed vulnerable and 297 have been declared extremely sensitive.