GILGIT Sunday, Nov. 08: As the date of elections for the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly is approaching, electioneering has entered a decisive phase. The people of the area would directly choose 24 members to the prospective assembly on November 12. All the mainstream political parties, including the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the Gilgit-Baltistan Democratic Alliance (GBDA), the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) and even the Awami National Party (ANP) have fielded their candidates. A large number of independent and nationalist candidates are also contesting the polls.
The PPP has nominated 23 candidates, the PML-N 15, the PML-Q 14, the MQM 21, the GBDA 10, the PTI two and the JI has issued tickets to two candidates.
This time polls would be held under different circumstances, as the government has enacted the Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009, under which the GBLA will have its own chief minister and the assembly would make its own budget, having powers to legislate on 61 subjects. However, the critics are sceptical of the package, calling it a political gimmick, which vests all the power in the governor, an “outsider”. Critics also contend that the so-called package does not bestow any political and constitutional rights on the people of the area. They would not have any representation in the National Assembly and the Senate.
As such, many consider these constitutional reforms merely cosmetic. They contend that they are still stuck at square one, because all along, their struggle has been for representation in the federal legislature in Islamabad.
They say that the government has once again linked the fate of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan to the resolution of the Kashmir dispute, despite the fact that the local leadership of Gilgit-Baltistan revolted against the Dogra rule in 1947 and expelled the Dogra governor, Gansara Singh, from the area, and later unconditionally announced accession to Pakistan. The government of Pakistan and the leadership of Azad Kashmir, under the so-called ìKarachi Agreementî, linked their constitutional rights to the resolution of the Kashmir issue.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission of Gilgit-Baltistan has announced a total of 1,033 polling stations, including 311 in Gilgit; 128 in Ghizer; 274 in Skardu; 144 in Ganche; 95 in Diamer and 81 in Astor districts.
A total of 4,15,000 male and 3,30,000 female voters will cast votes.
The ruling PPP will have tough time winning majority seats in the election as many party loyalists have been ignored in awarding tickets and many of ardent party supporters have deserted the party like mice leaving a sinking boat.
PPP ticket-holders are facing fierce challenges at every constituency including GBLA-1, Skardu, where PPP Gilgit-Baltistan President Syed Mehdi is facing Fida Muhammed Nashad of the PML-N. The contest between the two is expected to be fierce and both the parties have a win-win situation. Similarly, in GBLA-2, Skardu, PPP’s Sheikh Nisar Sarbaz will face MQM’s Nisar Khan and other independent candidates, who are going to give the PPP a tough time. Another important constituency, GBLA-3, Skardu, the contest will be among PPP’s Wazir Shakeel, Advocate, PML-N’s Fida Muhammed Nashad and MQM’s Gulam Raza Haidari.
Contrary to the last election, this time the PML-N has regained its ground as partyís bigwigs including Fida Muhammed Nashad from Baltistan, Mir Gazanfer from Hunza and Janbaz from Chilas, who had deserted the party and joined the PML-Q, have rejoined the party and the PML-N is in a position to win a fair number of seats.