Gilgit Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) was formed as part of the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, 2009. After every five years, the elections for the GBLA are held. These elections usually happen 2 years after the elections for the national assembly in the rest of the country. The reason for this delay in the election process does not directly affect the federal government formation as there are no seats for people of GB in the national assembly of Pakistan. The period of two years is however enough for the selected government in the center to influence the voters Gilgit Baltistan. This influence of the ruling government can be seen in all the previous elections. The ruling party in the center always wins the elections in the north. This isn’t a result of some magical coincidence, rather it involves a well-thought process of making seasonal politicians jump ship from their current parties to the ruling party.
The constituency of GBLA-19 constitutes the region from Sherqillah, Punial to the Tajikistan border through Wakhan -strip in the north on the right side of the Ishkoman River. The constituency holds a special position, as it could be a potential route for the extension of China Pakistan Economic Corridor to the Central Asian States. The region is also important for the government in the center for other less obvious reason, the current member of GB Assembly, Nawaz Khan Naji, who is a vocal critic of government policies and a strong proponent of equal rights for the people of GB.
The appointment of the previous member assembly Peer Syed Karam Ali Shah, the then member of GBLA from GBLA-19, for the position of Governor, opened a path for Nawaz Khan Naji to make it to the assembly. The political ideology resonated with the masses of the young generation of the region at that moment. The ideology which is very much vibrant has lost its charm in the last few years because of the inability to deliver those high expectations that the youth were expecting at the time. As for the older generation who voted for Nawaz Khan Naji, has drifted apart from the lack of development work in the region, which was again a main expectation from the selected member. Being elected twice Nawaz Khan Naji and Balwaristan National Front (BNF) may be able to keep their voter bank to a large extent.
The runner up of election 2015, Adv. Shakeel Ahmad is another strong candidate running from the platform of Pakistan Muslim League (N). Shakeel has been active in past in different protests for local issues. His eloquence and ability to connect with local population can be his strength along with his political contributions in the upcoming elections. His success in previous election could also be attributed to the fact that he was the candidate of the then ruling part PML (N). Adv. Shakeel no doubt enjoys a strong vote bank in parts of Punial and Ishkoman and will be the most likely pick for PML (N) in the upcoming elections.
The current federal government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is striving hard to find a suitable candidate for the upcoming elections. The party has been able to attract some very strong political figures. The most prominent name in the current political horizons is of Zaffar Muhammad, who had third-highest votes in the previous election. The success of Zaffar in previous elections can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, his father’s influence in Imit and Ishkoman region, who has remained Numberdar of the area and is well known. Secondly, his moto of giving the opportunity to a common man rather than the local elites, who are either based on religious family (the Syeds) or previously ruling families (the Rajas) and, finally, the relatively large number of candidates from Punial, who resulted in trumping votes from Nawaz Naji’s vote bank making his total number of votes less than what was expected.
In the current situation, the inclusion of Zaffar in PTI has angered the idealistic supporters and workers of the Party. The likes of Niamat Shah and Atif Salman who worked hard to make the party known in the region seemed to be pushed against the wall after the inclusion of Zaffar. This may result in the loss of a significant portion of the vote bank of PTI and may harm the popularity that PTI has in the constituency. Despite all this Zaffar with his role in the protests against power outages and the Hundrap kidnapping has remained in the public eye for quite a bit now and may be able to attract a good number of voters.
In this whole political turmoil, a relatively young, calm and well educated and the potential ticket holder of the Pakistan People Party (PPP), Syed Jalal Ali Shah could come out on top. His political maturity and an eye to see the bigger picture for GBLA-19 seem a combination of his education and the companionship of his father, the previous Governor GB, Peer Syed Karam Ali Shah. Although, being a beginner in the political arena himself, Syed Jalal has a strong voter bank in Punial and Ishkoman alike, owing to his family background. In addition to this, his ability to engage and connect with the younger generation by discussing bigger issues like the Tajikistan Road belt, power shortage and the improved legislative power for GBLA of the region could play a critical role in swaying the young voter bank and ultimately winning the election. Syed Jalal although may not be well known for the older generations at a personal level but is certainly someone with whom the young generation can relate to and can expect to understand their problem better than other political candidates.
In the wake of the current political scenario, the competition seems to be the hardest among the above mentioned politicians in the region. As history has shown there will be a plethora of independent candidates and seasonal politicians who would act as vote trumping candidates for one or more of these political candidates. In cases like that the votes will favor Syed Jalal Ali Shah because of his profile firstly and secondly the love of people towards his family and father in the region. Whether it will be the triumph of the idealist Nawaz Khan Naji, the new PTI tiger Zaffar Muhammad, the experienced Shakeel Ahmad or the highly qualified young Syed Jalal Ali Shah, only time will tell.
The contributor is a Fulbright Scholar at Iowa State University, USA and writes about the issues of Gilgit-Baltistan. He tweets @LalRizwanKarim1.