As counting got under way on Thursday after peaceful voting for the newly-created Legislative Assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan, the Pakistan People’s Party was ahead in several places while a first-time contestant in the area, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, was also doing well.

According to unofficial results early in the evening, the PPP had won two seats, one in Skardu and another in Gilgit. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) was leading in some places, while the MQM was leading in at least one seat. The results will be declared officially late on Thursday.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik called the holding of the elections “historic” and fair.

“There were only two minor incidents, and we took action to control them. The PPP government has managed to hold the most peaceful election in the area,” said Mr. Malik.

Shias and Sunnis had voted together without any display of mutual tension or hostility “for the first time”, said Mr. Malik.

The Shias are in a majority in Gilgit-Baltistan, the northern-most territory administered by Pakistan. The area is claimed by India as part of the state of Jammu & Kashmir.

There are no official estimates yet but reports put the turn-out in the election at around 50 per cent. As many as 250 candidates were in the fray for the election to 23 Assembly seats. The election in one constituency was postponed due to the death of a candidate.

This is the first election in the region after Pakistan announced a package of “autonomy” reforms for the region, under the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-governance) Order 2009.

The PPP is expected to emerge as the largest single party, but may not win a majority in the house, and as in Islamabad, may have to form a coalition government with other political parties.

The other parties in the fray are Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), Pakistan Muslim League (Q), the MQM, the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islami of Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

All parties have their voters, but the one being watched most is the MQM, which has for the first time entered candidates in an election in this region. The party’s main stronghold is Karachi, and it has capitalised on its networks with the large number of Gilgit-Batlistan students who go to Karachi for their higher studies.

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