Gilgit-Baltistan Electioneering Enters Decisive Phase

7 November 2009
The News International
Raja Zafar Ali Khan

Gilgit: 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 Peoples 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 Karachi Agreement, 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, PPPs Sheikh Nisar Sarbaz will face MQMs 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 PPPs Wazir Shakeel, Advocate, PML-Ns Fida Muhammed Nashad and MQMs Gulam Raza Haidari. Contrary to the last election, this time the PML-N has regained its ground as partys 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. The MQM is a new entrant in the politics of Gilgit-Baltistan and has made significant inroads even in the far-flung areas, and the youths are more inclined towards the party. The MQM leader Altaf Hussain addresses almost every meeting of the party telephonically on a daily basis, and the people are much impressed by his affinity with the area. The MQMs entry into the politics of Gilgit-Baltistan has also contributed in weakening the PPP even in its strongholds. MQM Parliamentary Leader Haider Abbas Rizvi claimed that the MQM will emerge as the largest party in Gilgit-Baltistan. In GBLA-4, Skardu, PPPs Wazir Hassan, PMLs M Sikandar and independent candidate Raja Maqpoon Khan are in the field. In constituency GBLA-6, Shigar, Raja Azam Khan of the MQM and Imran Nadeem Shigri of the PPP are in the field and the contest will be a pitched battle in this constituency as the MQM candidate has the backing of majority of the youths, whereas the PML-N has announced to support the PPP candidate. However, both the candidates are claiming victory in the polls. The party workers are highly charged and they may resort to violence in case enough security was not put in place. In GBLA, Gilgit-1, independent candidate Raziuddin Razi, PML-Ns Jafarullah, PPPs Muhammed Musa and PMLs Abdul Wahid are in the field. In this constituency, voters are mostly divided along religious lines. Razi has the backing of all the Shia religious parties and Jafarullah has the backing of Sunnis, and the Mufti of the central mosque has asked his co-religionist to support him. In GBLA, Gilgit-2, PML-Ns Hafiz Heezu-Rehman, PML-Q M Aslam Khan Advocate, Jamil Ahmed of PPP and others are in the field. However, Hafiz has an edge over other candidates in this constituency. In GBLA-19, Ghizer-1, PPP veteran candidate Pir Karam Ali Shah is facing Balawaristan National Front (BNF) leader Nawaz Khan Naji, independent candidates including Raja Karim Khan and Mir Wazir. The boat of Pir Karam Ali Shah seems sinking as the area people, especially the youth, have started looking to other candidates. However, the PPP candidate is adept at manoeuvering and may succeed in convincing the people to vote for him. In GBLA, Ghizer-3, Yasin, PPPs General Secretary Gulam Muhammad is facing independent candidates including Raja Jahanzeb, Muhammed Ayub; BNF candidate Mehboob Ali Shah and PML-N candidate Javed Iqbal. The PPP candidate has tough time in this constituency and the main contest is expected to be held among Raja Jahanzeb, Muhammed Ayub and Gulam Muhammed. In GBLA-19, Ghizer-2, Sultan Madad of the PML-N, Ali Madad Sher of the PPP, Sarfaraz Shah (independent) are in the field. In this constituency, Sultan Madad and Sarfaraz Shah are strong candidates. In the Hunza-Gojal constituency, Prince Shehryar of PML-N, Wazir Beig of the PPP and independent candidate Raja Shahbaz, Kamil Jan of MQM are the main contestants. Mir Gazanfar after deserting PML-Q rejoined the PML-N and fielded his son (Prince Shehryar) as he (Gazanfar) was debarred from contesting election after being declared defaulter. In GBLA-2, Diamer, Haji Abdul Quddus, Janbaz of PML-N, M Mir Jan and four others are in the field. Janbaz and Quddus are considered to be favourites in this constituency.