Protests Erupt Near Pakistan’s China Border over Alleged Vote-Rigging

People queue to cast their ballot at a polling station during the legislative assembly election in Skardu city in Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan on November 15, 2020. (Photo by Syed Mehdi SHAH / AFP) (Photo by SYED MEHDI SHAH/AFP via Getty Images)
SYED MEHDI SHAH/AFP via Getty Images

Protests against alleged vote-rigging in a recent legislative election continued on Wednesday for the third straight day in Pakistan-administered Gilgit Baltistan, a northern region in the disputed Kashmir territory bordering China.

The opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has blocked the Shahrah Quaid-i-Azam highway in the regional capital, Gilgit, since Monday morning as part of the protests, Asian News International (ANI) reported on Thursday. Supporters of an independent candidate, Haji Dilpazeer, “also blocked Karakorum Highway near Thalichi and Gunarfarm,” to protest the election results, Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported on Thursday.

“[T]housands of people” in Gilgit and the city of Skardu have participated in the protests since Monday, the Times of India reported on Wednesday, adding that “incidents of several tires being set on fire and many roads blocked for hours were reported in the region.”

The Gilgit Baltistan government has requested the Pakistan Army’s assistance “to maintain law and order” in Gilgit and in the city of Chilas, located 30 miles from the Pakistan border, amid the ongoing unrest.

“The GB [Gilgit Baltistan] administration has requisitioned 480 troops, out of which 300 [are] to be deployed in Gilgit and 180 in Chilas,” Dawn reported on Thursday. “The troops will standby as third-tier security layer to aid the administration and will remain deployed till November 23 [sic].”

Elections were held on November 15 across 23 constituencies of the Gilgit Baltistan Legislative Assembly. Unofficial results seem to indicate that the ruling party of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has won a majority of legislative seats. Opposition candidates in Gilgit Baltistan have accused the local election commission of purposefully delaying and manipulating the results of Sunday’s vote to favor the PTI party, according to Dawn.

“Tensions have risen because of the unusually long delay in finalizing results, which were expected on Tuesday [November 16],” ANI reported. Local law requires officials to finalize provisional election results by 2:00 am on the day immediately following the vote. The opposition PPP party “alleged that its candidate Jamil Ahmed was leading in the vote count on Sunday night, but next day his result was changed and he was shown trailing merely by two votes to PTI’s Fatehullah Khan,” Dawn reported.

“Following the PPP’s protest, the GB Election Commission has already ordered recounting of the votes in the constituency. The recounting took place in the presence of both the candidates on Tuesday but the results have so far so not been announced due to the fear of a law and order situation,” according to Dawn on Thursday.

Pakistan’s Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) on Wednesday released a preliminary report on Gilgit Baltistan’s November 15 election. Observers deployed by FAFEN “reported an average of around three illegalities or irregularities per polling station. These included breach of the secrecy of the vote, stamping of ballots by others on behalf of voters, and voters registered at the polling stations turned away for various reasons despite having their National Identity Cards (NICs).”

According to FAFEN, the Election Commission of Gilgit-Baltistan (ECGB) failed to provide a sufficient number of official paper forms to polling agents during the vote-counting process. “Resultantly, the presiding officers had to issue polling stations’ results to the polling agents on plain papers under their stamps and signatures, the legality of which has yet to be established.”

“[I]nstances of polling agents seated at a place from where they could not observe the voting process was reported from six constituencies,” FAFEN revealed.

“More serious are reports that candidates and their agents were barred from [Returning Officers] ROs’ offices during the preparation of the preliminary results in at least three constituencies, and [reports of] delays in the release of provisional results … in more than 10 constituencies,” the poll watcher added. An RO compiles the preliminary, unofficial election result before relaying the information to the ECGB.

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