Sharif to face litmus test in Gilgit -Baltistan by-election
Islamabad, May 30 (ANI): Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who finds himself increasingly isolated on the national scene in wake of the Panama Gate and American action against the Taliban, will now face an acid test in Gilgit -Baltistan which is set to vote in a by-election from Hunza on the border with Xinjiang province of North-western China.
Sharif has, however, turned this self-inflicted wound into a routine by-election involving around 36,000 voters into a referendum on his Pakistan Muslim League Party (PML-N) by fielding a bank loan defaulter much against the wishes of local satraps, who are now arraigned against his leadership.
There are 24 candidates, including local hero Baba Jan who has been fighting for self-rule for Gilgit, in the fray for the Hunza seat. He has been languishing in jail for several months.
The seat fell vacant following the resignation of Ghazanfar Ali Khan on his elevation as the Governor of Gilgit-Baltistan.
The by-election was originally scheduled to take place on May 28, but a division bench of the Supreme Appellate Court of Gilgit-Baltistan decided to delay the ballot for three weeks in order to complete the hearing of two pending criminal cases against Baba Jan.
To the dismay of Pakistan authorities, Baba Jan has become the most popular candidate on social media in Gilgit-Baltistan.
He is not new to elections. He came second in the 2015 election to the GB Legislative Assembly on the ticket of Left leaning Awami Workers Party (AWP) and secured 4, 500 votes relegating the PPP and PTI candidates to the third and fourth positions respectively.
Likewise in the 2015 election, Baba Jan’s campaign is this time also being financed and managed by the students, youth and women.
The 33 year-old is at present serving life sentence awarded by an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) for his role in an agitation for compensation to the victims of a massive landslide that had created an artificial lake rendering hundreds of families homeless in Hunza district in 2010.
Ghazanfar, the Mir of Hunza, gave the ticket to his son Prince Salim Ali because of his close friendship with Sharif.
The PML-N cadres are upset with the candidature of Ali, a known bank loan defaulter, because his mother Ghaznafar Rani Atika is a lawmaker in Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly. She was elected on a reserved seat for woman.
Though Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf (PTI) have fielded their heavy weights, the contest is mainly triangular between Prince Salim Ali, Col. Ubaidullah Baig and Baba Jan.
According to a survey, both Col. Ubaidullah and Baba Jan are expected to give a tough fight to Salim Ali.
Gilgit-Baltistan, which was earlier known as the northern areas, was part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir until Pakistan occupied the region in 1947.
The area remains one of the most neglected parts of Pakistan with the people denied their fundamental rights. They are not allowed to take part in Pakistan’s parliamentary elections either.
The Constitutions of 1956, 1962 and 1973 of Pakistan do not recognize Gilgit Baltistan as a part of Pakistan.
The Gilgit Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) was created through a Presidential order in 2009. It has a total of 33 members, 24 of them elected directly and six women and three technocrats elected indirectly through party list proportional representation system.
Pakistan Telegraph (ANI) Monday 30th May, 2016