The election of Northern Areas Legislative Assembly has completed the most
considerable constituent of the Constitutional Package enforced by the
Government of Pakistan to empower the local population in Pakistan
Controlled Gilgit-Baltistan region, however, allegations of massive
procedural irregularities, government interference and rigging have been
levelled against the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) which emerged as
the single largest party in the election on Nov 12 with 11 seats from total
23. Four independent candidates also won in the elections and as per
political traditions of the country have joined the ruling party-the PPP.
The PPP preferred to constitute allied government with the support of its
partners which already supports its government at the centre and provinces.
Gilgit-Baltistan region has no representation in the Pakistani Parliament,
therefore; recently, government of Pakistan enforced political reforms to
fulfil public demands.
Pakistani political and democratic system has a long history of accusations
of rigging and use and abuse of power by ruling parties to achieve desired
results in almost all elections. Apart from the majority of the political
parties some independent observers and groups have also raised the questions
on the legitimacy and transparency of the recent elections in
Gilgit-Baltistan. An NGO-Free and Fair Election Network in its report said
that Government interference, weak administration, procedural irregularities
and erroneous voter lists characterized the Gilgit-Baltistan polls.
Similarly, another independent watchdog the Human Rights Commission of
Pakistan (HRCP) which monitored the election process with more than 66 local
observers also mentioned that the entire electoral process was marred by
flaws caused by haste in holding the polls and insufficient preparations.
The HRCP in its report regretted that the Pakistan’s federal government
representatives–including Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani, members
of his cabinet and the acting governor of Gilgit-Baltistan–tried to woo
voters at government cost and with a string of financial incentives.
The opposition parties also highlighted many procedural weaknesses in order
to give leverage to PPP candidates. For instance, many stern mistakes were
observed in the voters list and related documents of the Election Commission
regarding the statistics of population of different constituencies. In
certain constituencies number of registered voters was shown only marginally
less than their entire population e.g. in GBLA-I (Gilgit) the population was
cited as 56,641 and the number of voters was 48, 574; in GBLA-VII (Skardu)
the population was shown as 35,310 and the number of voters was 27,833; the
population of GBLA-XV (Diamer) was mentioned as 40,680 and the number of
voters was 39,249. No doubt, these incredible statistics raise the questions
over the fairness of these elections and support the allegations raised by
the opposition parties.
Almost all political parties showed their reservations on the election.
Country’s major political party, Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), Pakistan
Muslim League (PML-Q), Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) which controls Southern
Sindh province and financial capital of the country, religious Jammiat
Ulma-e-Islam (JUI) which are also partners of PPP in central and provincial
governments, got representation in the newly parliament of Pakistan’s
controlled Gilgit-Baltistan, have lodged their stern protest against the
irregularities and temperance in the recent election.
On the other hand, refuting to the opposition’s allegations of rigging in
Gilgit-Baltistan elections, the Government of Pakistan insists that it was a
‘fair and transparent election’. Paradoxically, Pakistani Prime Minister Mr.
Gillani, while addressing a public rally in the Skardu, also claimed the
transparency and fairness of the election on same occasion announcing many
lucrative incentives for the people of the region. The observers argue that
how an election could be transparent with the immense use and abuse of state
resources to influence the will of the voters? The real picture of this
election could be seen unambiguously in the remarks of opposition leader in
National Assembly of Pakistan, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who commented that
“the PPP won the election, but the democracy lost in Gilgit-Baltistan.”
The noticeable feature of this election is victory of candidates of the MQM,
which mostly has been accused for being a regional party confined to the
Karachi. It seems that the MQM is expanding its political influence and
popularity across the country. The MQM has already two seats in the
Legislative Assembly of Pakistan Controlled Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
The majority of the political parties and groups from Pakistan Administered
Kashmir have categorically rejected the political reforms in
Gilgit-Baltistan areas, nevertheless, it is irony that none of these parties
has any organizational set up in the region nor they joined the recent
Pro-Pakistan Jamaat-e Islami (JI) is the only political entity from Jammu
and Kashmir which has its organizational structure in the region and it also
contested the election through three of its candidates. This is really a
matter of thinking for all those who claim the reunification of State of
Jammu and Kashmir in their announcements and statements, but, cannot deliver
and demonstrate in the realm of practical actions. It has been argued by the
observers that if all main political parties from Islamabad can extend their
networks in the Gilgit-Balitistan, political forces of Jammu and Kashmir
should also think about their extension to the region, which they claim as
the ‘integral part’ of their state.
(The writer is Executive Director of Press For Peace (PFP). He could be
contacted through: www.pressforpeace.org.uk)