Polling completed in Gilgit-Baltistan election

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Islamabad, Nov.12 (ANI): Polling for 23 legislative seats in the Gilgit-Baltistan province concluded at 4 p.m. local time on Thursday, eight hours after voting commenced. The first votes were cast at around 9 a.m.

A total number of 256 candidates were vying for the 23 legislative assembly seats after weeks of campaigning.

The total number of registered voters in the province is over 700,000 and votes were cast in nearly 1000 polling stations.

The Dawn quoted Chief Election Commissioner for Baltistan Rahim Nawaz Durrani, as saying the polls were expected to be trouble-free as all arrangements had been completed well in time.

Ten political parties including the PPP, PML-N , PML-Q , MQM , JUI-F , JI , ANP , PTI and the Gilgit-Baltistan Democratic Alliance were fielding 91 candidates. Additionally, 165 independent candidates were also contesting.

The Legislative Assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan is part of a package of "autonomy" reforms recently announced by the Pakistan Government for the disputed territory.

India claims the territory as part of the Jammu and Kashmir state, and has lodged protests with Islamabad over the announcement of political reforms in the territory, which come close to giving it a province-like status without constitutionally declaring it as one.

Kashmiris have opposed the move, as they believe it is a tacit acceptance by the Pakistani government of the status quo on the Kashmir issue, and will undermine their cause.

Under the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-governance) Order 2009 announced in September, the Legislative Assembly will replace the previous Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC), The Hindu reports.

The NALC was an elected body but had no more than an advisory role to the representative of the federal government, the Minister for Kashmir and Northern Areas, who ruled the territory from Islamabad.

The Legislative Assembly is expected to be an improvement over the council. Besides its directly elected members, it will have nine nominated members, six of whom will be women and three technocrats. It will have powers to pass a budget and make laws on 61 subjects, but the list excludes certain key subjects such as the natural resources of the area, including water and minerals.

A Chief Minister elected by the largest political party or grouping after the election will form the government and the region will get a Governor, just like any other province of Pakistan.

Real power is still expected to be wielded by the federally-appointed Governor, through a 12-member Legislative Council, half of whose members will be nominated by him.

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani visited Skardu on Tuesday, two days before the election. Gilani announced several pre-election sops including development schemes and declaring Skardu and Gilgit as "major cities" and the upgrading of the Skardu airport to international standards to attract tourists. (ANI)

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