Pakistan Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly Elections: Possibly October 2020 (postponed from August 18, 2020)

Attabad Lake in Gilgit-Baltistan. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Jameel Ahmed (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Freedom House Rating

Partly Free
Government Type
Federal Parliamentary Republic
233 million
Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly Elections
August 18, 2020 (postponed)
General Elections
By August 2023 (snap possible)
July 7, 2017
General Elections (Parliamentary and provincial)
July 25, 2018

Pakistan’s administrative territory of Gilgit-Baltistan (the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir) was scheduled to hold elections for its Legislative Assembly on August 18, 2020, but the elections have been postponed for at least two months due to delays in preparations such as completing the voter list. The current assembly members’ terms ended in June, and political parties have opposed the delay.

Political Context

Pakistan has various administrative units that elect their own legislatures. The four provinces (Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Sindh) elect their legislatures at the same time as general elections. Gilgit-Baltistan and the territory of Azad Kashmir hold their elections at other times.

Gilgit-Baltistan is an administrative territory whose status has been somewhat in flux because all of the ongoing dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir. In short, Gilgit-Baltistan’s status as an autonomous administrative territory – as opposed to a province fully incorporated into Pakistan’s political structure – has the potential to keep tensions with India on a low boil.

The downside to the arrangement is a democracy deficit. The territory lacked its own legislature until the 2009 Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order established the legislative assembly. India opposed the establishment of Gilgit-Baltistan’s legislative assembly and routinely objects vociferously to the holding of elections in Gilgit-Baltistan (Pakistan responded to recent criticism by pointing out that India holds elections in the India-controlled parts of Kashmir). Moreover, while the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are now able to elect local representatives, the territory still isn’t represented in Pakistan’s federal parliament in Islamabad (a 2019 Pakistani Supreme Court ruling provided for representation in parliament subject to a resolution of the Kashmir dispute – which does not look likely to be resolved anytime soon).

Pakistan’s National Political Context 

Following Pakistan’s turbulent 2018 general election, former cricket star Imran Khan – seen as the military’s preferred candidate – became prime minister when his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won the most seats. The main opposition parties are former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), founded by Zulfikar Bhutto and still led by members of the Bhutto family.

Political Situation in Gilgit-Baltistan 

PML-N won the most seats 2015 Gilgit-Baltistan elections. Conversely, PPP and PTI won one seat each. At the time, Nawaz Sharif was prime minister as PML-N had won Pakistan’s 2013 general elections. However, many prominent political figures in Gilgit-Baltistan have joined PTI ahead of these elections.

In that vein, political commentator Muhammed Amir Rana argues: “Politics in Azad Kashmir and [Gilgit-Baltistan] is mainly steered by the power corridors in Islamabad. This is a general belief that the ruling party in Islamabad will form the government in these regions. The different election timeframes of these regions from national polls in Pakistan make political engineering easy for gaining the required numbers in the local legislative assemblies.”

Geopolitical Context

The entire Kashmir region, which borders Afghanistan and China’s Xinjiang Province, is a geopolitical hotspot. Both India and Pakistan claim the entirety of Kashmir, and it has sparked several wars. The region remains heavily militarized.

The India-controlled part of Kashmir has been in crisis since August 2019. In a surprise move, the Modi government made a unilateral decision to strip the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir of its autonomy. For seventy years, the Indian-controlled part – established as the state of Jammu and Kashmir and India’s only Muslim-majority state – enjoyed a high degree of autonomy, but Modi announced that the state would be downgraded into two union territories, effectively centralizing control. The area remains on lockdown a year later. The situation has unsurprisingly exacerbated tensions between India and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, China has been ramping up its presence in the region. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a centerpiece of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, runs through Gilgit-Baltistan.

Curated News and Analysis

Muhammed Amir Rana, DAWN Pakistan (July 26, 2020): Political Landscape of GB

Daily Times Pakistan (July 13, 2020): Gilgit-Baltistan polls postponed for at least two months

PTI, May 17, 2020): Pakistan President Arif Alvi issues order to form caretaker government, conduct elections in Gilgit-Baltistan

The Hindu (May 4, 2020): India protests Pakistan Supreme Court move to allow elections in Gilgit Baltistan

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid, The Diplomat (February 16, 2019): Gilgit-Baltistan: Pakistan’s Geopolitical Loophole

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Updated August 8, 2020

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