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Gilgit-Baltistan rigging

Umar Farooq

This writer is a Senior Journalist And Analyst

The general elections in Gilgit-Baltistan have finally been held. Despite all efforts, the PTI failed to win a simple majority while the opposition parties have refused to accept the results and have claimed there was rigging.

Let’s analyze whether the opposition’s claims of rigging are true. The previous PML-N government in Gilgit-Baltistan completed its five-year tenure on June 24. The Election Commission announced the schedule on June 2 for the next schedule. The elections were set to be held on August 18 for the third Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly.

This is where the real game starts. The PTI sought applications for party tickers and realized it did not have suitable candidates who could win the elections. The party found excuses to push the election forward and gain more time to devise a strategy. A closed meeting cited various reasons to postpone the election from August to October and other political parties including the PPP, PML-N and JUI-F readily accepted neither did the PDM take the matter seriously.

Meanwhile, the PTI contacted the ‘electables’ of the PPP, PML-N, JUI-F and other parties to break them away. In the meantime, the ECP did announced the new schedule for the elections in October. The opposition stood as silent spectators and didn’t even raise a voice. PML-N leaders were enticed or threatened to hop aboard and eventually the government announced to hold polls on November 15.

After the election schedule was announced, the PTI started the second phase of rigging and ECP appeared incapable of exerting control. The ECP had announced a code of conduct barring the prime minister and federal minister from visiting the area or announcing any projects. This was hardly enforced and federal ministerss frequently visited and campaigned in the polls.

The Gilgit-Baltistan election results are important as it will set the course for the region’s legal status and can affect the Kashmir issue. 

Projects worth billions were announced and the government that ended subsidies was distributing free flour. Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan Ali Amin Gandapur openly announced vote buying and our conscience was at stake. With threats and intimidation did not work, the prime minister stepped visited the region two weeks before the elections and announced to declare Gilgit-Baltistan a new province.

Days before the elections, Gandapur appointed an Islami Tehreek candidate as his advisor. The caretaker setup were also closely associated with PTI candidates. Others might claim this was done in the past but is acceptable that PTI which calls for change was resorting to the same tactics as the previous regime. The promise of change is mere deception if turncoats are part of the election process. The PTI has openly indulged in horse trading and violated the code of conduct. Then a survey is published days before that PTI is the most popular party and is winning the elections.

During the election campaign, PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari held the largest rallies and political gatherings. PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz headed late to the region but attracted large crowds and ran a successful campaign. The PTI was declared the winner ever though its candidate for chief minister lost the election. PPP candidate Jamil Ahmed who had a lead of 600 votes lost overnight to PTI’s Fatehullah by two votes.

The opposition claims there were irregularities but if they had formed an alliance then they would not have seen this day. Bilawal and Maryam met just two days prior to the election, whereas in fact this meeting should have been held much earlier to devise a coherent strategy and results would have been different. The two parties were late to reach. Perhaps Bilawal was convinced that they could win the elections single-handedly. JUI-F and JamaatIslami were completely oblivious and seemed as it were not even part of the elections. The elections showed the vote bank of religious parties has reduced and they should ponder over the reasons for their failure.

The MajlisWahadat-e-Muslimeen won just one seat while the IslamiTehreek failed to win any even though an overwhelming majority of the region’s people associated themselves with a sect. Nationalist parties remain popular and staunch nationalist Noor Khan won elections for the third time.

The Gilgit-Baltistan election results are important as it set course the region’s legal status and can affect the Kashmir issue. The region’s worth will increase after the completion of CPEC projects and mega water and power initiatives such as Diamer-Basha Dam. The next government depends will at mercy of independent candidates and it needs to be seen how it will handle such important decisions.

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