Gilgit Baltistan is an autonomous region in Pakistan’s northern part, having its own government and electoral system. Gilgit Baltistan, formerly a part of Kashmir, held its third legislative assembly elections in mid of November. As a result of these elections, the ruling party in Islamabad surfaced as the winner. These results were rejected and protested against by the losing candidates claiming elections to be unfair and not transparent. The reports of various organizations have more or less shun these claims. Moreover, the results show emerging trends of the politics in Gilgit Baltistan. These trends do come up with some lessons to learn for the political parties of Pakistan.
The third legislative elections of Gilgit Baltistan were to occur in August, but due to Covid-19 situations, they were postponed. They were scheduled to be contested in mid of November. And on 15th November, the public of Gilgit Baltistan came out to vote, and subsequently, results were announced, and Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaaf emerged as the winner. Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaaf got the most seats but fell short of the simple majority to form the government. It secured the remaining seats with the help of independent candidates. Compared with the last two elections in Gilgit Baltistan – which were won by Pakistan People’s Party (2009) and PML (N) (2015), Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaaf could not get a decisive victory as they did in their respective successes.
After the results’ announcement, the losing parties protested against the results and called the elections rigged. There were alleged of violations of the codes of the election commission by the ruling party. These violations were keenly highlighted and protested by opposition parties. They have alleged that the elections were unfair and lacked transparency. The Free and Fair Elections have released its preliminary report, which has cleared the air that elections were fair, although there have been such discrepancies.
Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto had led a vigorous campaign in Gilgit Baltistan. They could not win the election as they might have expected, but they managed to attract more voters (26%) than in previous elections (18%). PLMN, on the other hand, failed miserably as it only got two seats. Interestingly, two former chief ministers of this region lost their constituencies, and two independent candidates who were denied the tickets of Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaaf won against candidates of Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaaf.
There is much fuss about pre-poll rigging and political engineering after embracing defeat by losing parties. What these parties are missing out on is the performance when they were in governments. Also, what did they do to strengthen their party organization in the region during those years?
It is time to look deeper to find the causes of failure. A weak party structure is one of the reasons. Since the region does not take part in deciding the government of Pakistan, political parties tend to ignore this region and only turn their heads towards it in election times. Therefore, to win the region, they must organize party structures here, and political work at grass root level must also be done. Instead of focusing on electables – which are usually elite people and have no political ideology – they must focus on building their own candidates. These electables tend to side with the expected winners before elections. This practice must be stopped as it damages the democracy and credibility of political parties.
There is another factor involved in the victory of Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaaf that is Gilgit Baltistan tends to vote for the party forming government in Islamabad. They look towards the ruling party for more funds and development. This pattern will not break until GB is given same constitutional administration system as other provinces of Pakistan.
Hence, Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaaf needs to learn from the mistakes of its competitors and not repeat their mistakes. It is time to perform and fulfill election promises, including the most important ‘provincial status’. Gilgit Baltistan is in dire need of infrastructure development, including roads, schools, and hospitals. Tourism also needs infrastructure development for the sector to flourish. It is hoped that the new government has not paid just lip service and will stand by its words.
In short, it can be said that the results of the elections came out as expected, and subsequent hue and cry over it was also foreseen. But the important thing is to learn from the mistakes and general trends of the politics in Gilgit Baltistan. Political parties need to survive in Gilgit Baltistan to organize their party structures in the region and discourage the fashion of electables. Also, it is essential that the hopes and aspirations of the region must be fulfilled by rulers to remain relevant in the region.