Notwithstanding India’s objection, Pakistan on Monday held legislative assembly elections in the strategic Gilgit-Baltistan region amid tight security.
The counting is already underway for 24 seats for which 272 candidates are in the fray, officials said.
Voting began at 8am and continued until 4pm, with minor scuffles breaking out leaving some people injured due to which balloting was temporarily suspended at certain places.
It is the second time Pakistan is holding polls to elect a regional legislature after devolution of powers in 2009 which changed the region’s name from Northern Areas to Gilgit-Baltistan and provided it with a local assembly.
Women also came out in large numbers for voting in the polls, in which ruling Pakistan Muslim League was leading at nine seats in partial counting, Geo TV reported.
According to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), about 6,18,364 registered voters were expected to exercise their franchise to elect six members of the assembly from Skardu district, four from Diamer, three each from Gilgit, Hunza Nagar, Ghizer and Ganche and two from Astor.
The polls were held in tight security, with 282 of the total 1,143 polling stations declared “highly sensitive” and another 269 as “sensitive”.
The candidates are representing all major parties including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of ex-president Asif Ali Zardari.
All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf is also in the run and fielded candidates for 13 seats.
Other known parties contesting the polls are Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), Majils Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM), Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam- Fazl (JUI-F), Tehreek-e-Islami and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI).
Pakistan had deployed army at all polling stations and at key entry and exit point of the region, that is strategically located and provides the only land link with China.
The USD 46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is also proposed to pass through it, which India has objected to.
Reacting strongly to the elections in Gilgit-Baltistan, India last week had said it is an attempt by Pakistan to “camouflage its forcible and illegal occupation” of the regions which are integral part of the country.
Official Spokesperson in the External Affairs Ministry Vikas Swarup in New Delhi had expressed concern at the “continued efforts” by Pakistan to deny the people of the region their political rights and to absorb these territories.
But Pakistan had rejected India’s stand and said India should avoid “interference” in its internal affairs.
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