Curtain Raiser ; Gilgit Baltistan Elections for Third Consecutive Assembly -by-Global Observes Election Network

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Tazeen Akhtar

Gilgit Baltistan is all set to go into third consecutive poles after securing the so called provincial status. On 29 August 2009, the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009, was passed by the Pakistani cabinet and later signed by the then President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari. Gilgit-Baltistan thus gained a de facto province-like status without constitutionally becoming part of Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan on 01 Nov officially announced his government’s decision to convert the territory of Gilgit Baltistan (GB) into a full-fledged province. The decision will grant the region Pakistan’s constitutional rights, comprising representation in the upper and lower houses of the (Pakistani) parliament but a notification in this regard and details of the announcement are still awaited. Therefore, the locals are taking this fresh announcement just as an election slogan.

Since Aug 2009, Gilgit Baltistan has seen 2 general elections and the latest is third consecutive pole in which Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf is poised to take the charge because people say and it is a routine as well that the regional government is formed by the party that is already in power in the centre.

Here is a detailed report prepared by “Global Observers Election Network ” on the election. It covers the background and present state of affairs in the election. It also sheds light on the measures taken by the election commission of GB to make the elections free, fair and transparent as much as they can be. GBEN has appointed its observers throughout GB to note how the process is going on and they are reporting from their respective areas and constituencies. It’s a matter of great satisfaction that no untoward incident occurred so far in any region.

First Assembly Election ;

First election was held on 12 Nov 2009 in which 264 candidates participated, out of which 99 from 10 different political parties and 165 independent candidates contested for 24 seats. Voting took place from Morning 9 AM to 4 PM. 1022 polling stations were set up out of which 200 polling stations were considered sensitive. 5000 law enforcement personnel were hired for security. Pakistan People’s Party emerged as the largest party in the assembly by winning 20 seats out of 33 including special and reserved seats of women and others. The assembly members took oath on 10 December 2009 and Syed Mehdi Shah became the 1st Chief Minister of Gilgit Baltistan unopposed. The assembly completed its full 5 years term.

Second Assembly Election;

Elections for the 2nd Assembly of Gilgit Baltistan were held on 8 June 2015. 495 candidates from different political parties and Independents submitted their nomination papers out of which 50 nominations were rejected. 445 candidates took part in elections. Polling took place from morning 8 am to evening 4 pm. Total number of 1143 polling stations were set up across the region. Out of 1143 polling stations, 282 were declared highly sensitive, while 269 polling stations were declared sensitive. About 5500 Military Soldiers along with 4356 policemen were deployed to perform security duties.Pakistan Muslim League (N) emerged as the majority party by winning 15 out of 24 general seats. Taking into account the 4 out of 6 women seats and 2 out of 3 technocrat seats that they successfully gained, their seats increased to 22. They won a lopsided majority in the assembly.

Third Assembly Elections;

This election is being held on 15 November 2020 in 23 constituencies. Total constituencies are 24 but election in one postponed to 22 Nov because of the death of one candidate Jaffer Shah of PTI, the president of regional party wing. 327 candidates will contest these elections,representing fourteen officially registered and recognized political parties of Gilgit-Baltistan (at the time of the 2020 elections) or being an independent candidate. Only 4 are women among them that is very low representation but still it is legal as political parties are bound to fix only 5% of tickets to women and in 24 this ratio is fulfilled with only one ticket to a woman.

Postponement of Election;

The elections were originally scheduled to be held on 18 August 2020 as the assembly completed 5 years term on 24 June 2929, but were postponed in July due to the Corona Pandemic, which severely affected Gilgit-Baltistan.

GB Election & Caretaker Gov Amendment Order 2020;

Pakistan President Arif Alvi has promulgated an order to form a caretaker government as well as to conduct elections in Gilgit-Baltistan province. President Alvi promulgated the “Gilgit-Baltistan Election and Caretaker Amendment Order, 2020” to conduct transparent elections in Gilgit-Baltistan. The presidential promulgation came days after the Pakistan Supreme Court on April 30 allowed the federal government to amend a 2018 administrative order to conduct general elections in the region. The Gilgit-Baltistan Order of 2018 provided for administrative changes, including authorising the Prime Minister of Pakistan to legislate on an array of subjects. The presidential order said it was necessary to provide for the adoption of laws to install a caretaker government in Gilgit-Baltistan for conducting a fair and transparent election.

Transparency & Free/Fair Election;

Opposition parties especially PPP and PMLN are raising concerns and there is a hue and cry among their candidates as well for what they allege that rigging is on in the election process. They pointed out for example more postal ballots than the number of voters in a constituency on 13 Nov 2020 but Baltistan Chief Election Commissioner Raja Shahbaz Khan claims that the apprehensions of rigging are baseless and these elections will prove to be the maximum transparent elections in the history of GB.

CECGB responds that there is no justification for the hue and cry being raised by the leaders of some political parties about rigging in the coming elections for the GB Assembly. If the opposition leaders can identify any flaws in the electoral process, CEC will definitely fix it.CECGB says that local leaders of political parties are satisfied with arrangements for GB elections which would be conducted in a free, fair and transparent way on Nov 15.

CEC assured  that the PM of Pakistan and federal ministers were not allowed to participate in GB election campaign. GB elections will be conducted without interference of the federal government. But on the other hand Minister for Kashmir/GB affairs was addressing the election rallies of PTI. Prime Minister was not in election campaign but he visited two times in between the election season. First to inaugurate Dia Mir Bhasha Dam and then to participate in Azadi Ceremony of 01 Nov in Gilgit.

The chief election commissioner suggested that leaders from outside GB should avoid coming there to ensure peaceful elections but it was not useful as Minister Ali Amin Ganda Pur, Maryam Nawaz and Bilawel Bhutto were touring the length and breadth of GB.

GB Election Commission has adopted the Election Commission of Pakistan’s code of conduct of 2018 with the addition of standard operating procedures regarding Covid-19 with the consultations of all political parties in GB.

CEC of GB had issued a notification on May 18 banning executive authority from postings and announcement of fresh development schemes. Two all-party conferences were held on July 7 and August 26 for reaching consensus among political parties on the conduct and schedule of elections.

Under section 238 of the Elections Act, 2017, extended to Gilgit-Baltistan on May 15, the CEC had invited observers including Fafen to monitor elections. Code of conduct for contesting candidates and political parties had already been issued and electoral rolls had also been updated on the demand of political parties.

Sensitive Polling Stations;

According to  GB chief secretary out of the total 1,141 polling stations, 577 had been identified as sensitive, with 297 of them highly sensitive. The data shared with the panel reveals that 125 out of the 208 polling stations in Gilgit have been declared as sensitive, including 48 highly sensitive.

The situation appears to be comparatively better in Ghizer district where 62 out of a total of 143 polling stations have been declared as sensitive, with 31 of them as highly sensitive.

In Hunza, 20 out of the total 64 polling stations have been categorised as sensitive, of which 11 are highly sensitive.

In Nagar district, the total number of polling stations is 61 out of which 22 are sensitive including nine highly sensitive.

In Skardu, 103 out of the total 181 polling stations have been declared as sensitive, of which 57 are highly sensitive. In Ghanche, the total number of polling stations is 49 out of which as many as 30 have been declared as sensitive, including 16 as highly sensitive.

In Shigar, 24 out of the total 61 polling stations have been declared as sensitive, of which 12 are highly sensitive. In Kharmang, 27 out of the total 39 polling stations have been categorised as sensitive, 16 of them as highly sensitive.

Diamer appears to be a major trouble spot where only four out of the total 141 polling stations have been categorised as normal.

Weather;

In the current month of  November, some high altitude areas received heavy snowfall, requiring additional arrangements for transportation of election materials, polling staff and returning officers. Helicopters will be requisitioned from the army for arrangements in these areas.

Security;

Pakistan Army or Rangers will not be called in to preside over the polls at the Election. Caretaker Chief Minister made it clear in an interview with the representative of “Global Observers Election Network” that the caretaker government had the capacity to hold free, fair, and transparent elections in Gilgit-Baltistan with its own security apparatus including Police and other forces. But GB Gov has requested Punjab Gov to send 2,353 Punjab Constabulary personnel — 23 inspectors, 78 sub-inspectors, 168 assistant sub-inspectors, 250 head constables and 1,834 constables — will be sent to GB for performing duty during the election in the region.

(The writer is editor of a newspaper in Islamabad and had visited GB to observe the Election Situation. He can be reached at tazeen303@gmail.com)

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