A high number of people in Gilgit-Baltistan voted in an orderly, well-managed and peaceful election to the Legislative Assembly on June 8, 2015. However, the vote counting and result consolidation processes were not accessible to independent observers.

While Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) is unable to comment on the quality of the vote counting process at polling stations and the result consolidation process at the offices of Returning Officers as most of its accredited observers were not allowed to observe, FAFEN can conclude that the voting process largely remained organized under a relatively well-trained polling staff and watchful security personnel. The principles of electoral transparency held by the Election Commission of Gilgit-Baltistan (ECGB) by issuing accreditation cards to independent observers and media to enter polling stations appeared not to have been shared with
government and security officials, who obstructed the observation – particularly of the results management process.

However, keeping in view the capacity and resources available to the ECGB, the electoral exercise was planned, managed and enforced in a fashion that largely inspired confidence of the people in this mountainous region as well as most political parties. The outgoing chief minister has already accepted the election results without raising any questions on the quality of the election.

The election was held under an improved legislative framework. The announcement on April 21, 2015 regarding extension of the electoral laws in vogue in Pakistan weeks before the schedule for the election was a challenge for the election administrators but also provided them adequate legal space and authority to oversee the conduct of election in line with the legal standards of
independence, fairness and honesty. Equally important was the introduction of new electoral rolls prepared on the basis of Computerized National Identity Cards (CNICs), which minimized the possibility of multiple voting and other related issues on Election Day.

The elections were due after completion of the tenure of the first Legislative Assembly, which was elected under the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order 2009 enacted by the then federal government led by Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians (PPPP). A more empowered assembly with powers to legislate in 61 areas comprises 33 members – 24 elected
directly on general seats on first-past-the-post basis and nine on reserved seats – six for women and three for technocrats. Members to the reserved seats are elected indirectly through a party list proportional representation system.

The Legislative Assembly also elects six members to the Gilgit-Baltistan Council on proportional representation basis by means of a single transferable vote. Headed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the Council is the key link between the governments of Pakistan and Gilgit-Baltistan and has powers to legislate on 55 subjects. In addition to six members elected by the Legislative
Assembly, the 15-member Council also includes the Governor of Gilgit-Baltistan, who serves as its Vice Chairman, the Chief Minister of Gilgit-Baltistan and another six members nominated by the Prime Minister of Pakistan from amongst federal ministers and members of Parliament.

The PPPP won a simple majority in the elections to the first Legislative Assembly in November 2009 held under the rudimentary Legislative Assembly (Elections) Order 1975 (Amended up to 2009) and a Chief Election Commissioner whose powers were not defined in the 2009 Order. The results were largely accepted by the then contending parties but not without raising questions on the quality of the elections, which, according to FAFEN’s observation, were characterized by a weak electoral administration, procedural irregularities, erroneous voters’ lists and considerable government interference.

The pre-election period for the 2015 election was also not free of questions regarding the neutrality of the federal government. Mainstream political parties were particularly critical over the appointment of the Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan as the Governor of the region, which, they said, was against the spirit of the relevant provisions of the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self Governance) Order 2009. Political parties also criticized the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner, which, they maintained, was not in line with the spirit of the 2009 Order.

However, the federal government has the authority to make amendments to the legal and administrative frameworks governing Gilgit-Baltistan through executive orders in areas not covered by the Council and Assembly legislative lists, also protected under Clause 3 of the Article 47 of the 2009 Order. On the recommendations of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, President Mamnoon Hussain amended the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order 2009 twice through executive orders. The first amendment was meant to provide for setting up a caretaker government in Gilgit-Baltistan. Subsequently, Sher Jahan Mir was appointed as the caretaker Chief Minister, followed by installation of a 12-member interim cabinet by the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan. Another presidential order paved the way for the appointment of a federal minister as the Gilgit-Baltistan Governor.

Notwithstanding pre-poll appointments of the Governor, Chief Election Commissioner and the caretaker Chief Minister by the federal government, all mainstream political parties decided to participate in the electoral process. Thirteen political parties fielded their candidates to contest 24 Legislative Assembly seats in seven districts of the region. A competitive campaign enabled political parties and their candidates to rally the support of voters around their manifestoes and was followed by an impressive turnout of voters which by far exceeded the voter turnout witnessed in previous election. Warmer weather also supported the election process as most areas in this developmentally-challenged region were accessible for both voters and the candidates.
While minor incidents of electoral violence were reported through the election campaign as well as on Election Day, the polling day remained largely peaceful in a region where people are fragmented along political, sectarian and ethnic lines. Deployment of Pakistan Army also mitigated the possibility of violence on Election Day, especially in hotly-contested constituencies of Gilgit and Skardu which witnessed intense moments during the campaigning period.

FAFEN partnered with Gilgit-Baltistan Policy Institute (GBPI) in the observation of these elections and fielded 24 constituency coordinators and 183 Election Day observers to observe as many as 65 percent of the polling stations in 24 constituencies. Observation in GBLA-2 (Gilgit-2) was called off a night before the elections after one of the candidates’ representative raised questions about the neutrality of some of the observers in the constituency. All FAFEN observers were issued accreditation cards by the ECGB.

To download complete report, click here