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Explainer: Gilgit-Baltistan elections 2020 likely PTI-PPP showdown

The vote will be held on November 15

SAMAA | - Posted: Nov 13, 2020 | Last Updated: 2 weeks ago
Editing & Writing | Yasal Munim
Posted: Nov 13, 2020 | Last Updated: 2 weeks ago
Explainer: Gilgit-Baltistan elections 2020 likely PTI-PPP showdown

Bilawal Bhutto became the first national leader to kick off an election campaign in Gilgit Baltistan when he arrived Skardu on October 21 with plans to hit up 23 constituencies in 23 days.

This will be the region’s third election since GB was given the power to rule itself in 2009 through its assembly.

In the first election in 2009 the PPP won, followed by the PML-N in 2015.
The PML-N completed its term on June 23, 2020 and the Legislative Assembly wrapped up after five years in power. Mir Afzal was sworn in as the caretaker chief minister for GB on June 24.

The vote will be held on November 15.

Number of seats and voters
GB has 24 constituencies and its assembly has 33 seats. Candidates from political parties will stand for 24 seats. Of the remaining seats, six are reserved for women and three for technocrats. The area has a population of about 1.3 million and a total of 745,361 voters have registered, of which roughly half or 339,992 are women.

Bilawal Skardu GB election
Bilawal Bhutto in Gol, Skardu on Saturday, Oct 24. Image: @MArifArain8

Who is contesting?
A total of 330 people are standing in these elections. The PML-Q is fielding candidates in 14 constituencies. And the PTI has issued party tickets to 22 people and expressed its support for Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen’s candidates in two constituencies.

The PPP, which suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the PML-N in 2015, announced candidates for all 24 constituencies. Many of the PPP candidates are seasoned politicians and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is running the campaign.

His arrival in Skardu has already charged the environment and ramped up the competition. PTI’s GB general secretary Fateh Ullah Khan objected to Bilawal running the PPP election campaign as he said it was against a joint declaration made at the all-parties conference agreeing that federal and provincial ministers and senators would not take part in election campaigns. “The commission should ask Bilawal to leave otherwise we will also bring our leaders to run election campaigns,” he said.

Bilawal’s strategy aside, the PTI appears to be putting its money on previously successful candidates. According to PML-N provincial vice-president and former GB chief minister Hafeezur Rehman, the PTI has approached former ministers and members of the GB assembly to offer them membership and tickets. Fida Muhammad Nashad, who became Speaker after the 2015 elections, has been awarded a PTI ticket, he added.

Other former PML-N minister and MPAs who have joined PTI include former provincial minister Dr Muhammad Iqbal, Haider Khan, and Ibrahim Sanai.

This leads local journalist Meraj Aalam to wager that the PTI’s real competition is with the PPP. It has a track record of preferring alliances with smaller parties and independent candidates. Aalam thinks that the PPP also has a similar chance as its main competitor, the PML-N, is running a weak campaign.

Many people are leaning towards the PTI as well, as it is currently in power in the Centre. The PTI’s announcement to make the autonomous region a province could prove fruitful for the party in the upcoming elections, he added. On September 17, the government decided to give GB the status of a province with all constitutional rights, including representation in the Senate and the National Assembly. 

GB Chief Election Commissioner Raja Shehbaz Khan told SAMAA Digital that transparent elections will be held for the transfer of power. Police and security personnel will be deputed at polling stations while the Pakistan Army will be positioned outside sensitive polling stations.

Gilgit-Baltistan is a historically distinct political entity near the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir. It is located at the junction of China, Central and South Asia, and Afghanistan.

Situated in the mountains of northern Pakistan, Gilgit-Baltistan covers 72,971 square kilometers. Its estimated population of 1.3 million.
Gilgit-Baltistan was previously known as the Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA). It is an autonomous region in northern Pakistan with separate government and electoral systems. In 1970, it became a single administrative unit called the Northern Areas under administrative control of the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas, formed from the amalgamation of the Gilgit Agency, the Baltistan District of the Ladakh Wazarat, and the states of Hunza and Nagar.

The region is divided into two administrative divisions: Gilgit and Baltistan/Skardu. Its government is made up of a GB Council, Legislative Assembly, ministers, a chief minister and a governor. Its assembly has the power to make laws on 61 subjects, including land revenue and administrative courts and it votes on the budget.

CPEC passes through the Karakoram Highway and covers almost 600 kilometers distance in GB, giving the area a high profile geopolitically.
Since 1947, GB has not been granted provincial status due to its colonial association with the disputed region of Kashmir.  

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