GB region goes to the polls today

Statesman Report

GILGIT: Voters in Pakistan’s mountainous far north will go to the polls on Sunday in an election that has turned the attention of the federal government and major political parties upon an otherwise neglected region facing decades of disenfranchisement.

For the last few weeks, campaigning has been on in full swing in the area, with candidates from Pakistan's major political parties promising to build infrastructure projects and end decades of neglect.

The Gilgit-Baltistan legislature has 33 seats — 24 general seats, six reserved for women and three for technocrats. But despite the quota, only four women will be competing. Some 330 contenders are vying for ballots of about 745,000 voters.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz won the 2015 election in the region and ruled for five years. It hopes to win again, and Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of the party’s founder, and head has furiously campaigned in the area for the last several days.

Senior PML-N leader and former Gilgit-Baltistan chief minister Hafiz Hafeezur Rehman said his party had "left no stone unturned" to make the region prosperous.

But prosperity is not felt on the ground. Pakistan's National Assembly and Senate have no representation from Gilgit-Baltistan, and the region receives only a fraction of the national budget.

In many areas, women have never cast their votes.

Sadia Danish of the opposition Pakistan People's Party (PPP) comes from one such area, Tangir, in Diamir district.

“Daril and Tangir regions of Diamir district have poor literacy rate and women are mostly kept confined to domestic works," PPP Gilgit-Baltistan chapter president Amjad Hussain Advocate told Arab News. "That’s why we have awarded the party’s ticket to the female candidate in Tangir area to spread awareness among women about their due rights."

Earlier this month, the federal government said it had decided to elevate the impoverished region’s status to that of a province, which would give it greater political representation.