Islamabad: Polling for the 23 seats of the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) Legislative Assembly was held peacefully amid tight security on Sunday.
A large number of voters, men and women, in the strategically-important region of Pakistan could be seen standing in long queues at polling stations until the last hour braving icy winds, freezing cold even snowfall to elect candidates of their choice.
Polls held with coronavirus SOPs in place
In order to prevent coronavirus spread, hand sanitizers, face masks and coronavirus Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) have been declared mandatory for the staff as well as voters.
There are a total of 330 candidates including the mainstream, regional and local political parties, women and independent candidates.
Polling started at 8:00 a.m. (PST) and will continue until 5 p.m. without any break.
According to the Election Commission of the GB, polling was held at 23 seats while election to the remaining 24th seat, that was postponed earlier, would be held one week later.
In GB, out of 1.3 million population 745,361 voters are registered—453,000 male and 340,000 female voters. The GB Legislative Assembly has a total of 33 seats out of which 24 are directly elected general seats six are reserved for women and three for technocrats.
3rd legislative assembly
This is going to be the third election for the GB Legislative Assembly since GB was granted a status similar to provinces and created its own provincial assembly under the 2009 Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order.
The first polls were held in 2010 and won by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) that was also in power at centre and in Sindh.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had a sweeping victory in the subsequent elections of 2015. Incidentally, the party was in power at the federal level and in Punjab at that time.
According to initial surveys the main contest is likely between the PPP and the PTI candidates, however, seeing the earlier two elections’ trends the ruling party has an edge over rival candidates.
Different from previous elections
However, this time election is going to be different from earlier two, as leaders of the three mainstream parties have jumped into the foray. Never before has a relatively small population has attracted such a huge attention and involved so much hectic campaigning by national leaders.
During the election campaign, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was the first among the top leaders to jump into the GB arena and was assisted during the campaign by other top PPP leaders including Qamar Zaman Kaira, Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar and Sherry Rehman.
Bilawal was followed by the PML-N vice president and daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Maryam Nawaz. She too addressed a number of public meetings, and was accompanied by former Prime Minister and senior vice president of the PML-N Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Secretary General Ahsan Iqbal.
The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had also launched a hectic campaign and Prime Minister Imran Khan visited the area once to announce that GB will soon be given provisional provincial status.
The PTI’s election campaign was mainly run by Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan Ali Amin Gandapur, who made tall claims and promised allocation of billions of rupees for the region if his party came into power there. Two other ministers Murad Saeed and Zulfi Bukhari also participated in the election campaign for a brief period.
The multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) also runs through this region in northern Pakistan.
More than 15,900 law enforcement personnel are deployed to ensure security during the polling process. Out of the 847 polling booths, 418 have been declared highly sensitive, 311 sensitive and 431 normal.
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