Source: News Bharati English21 Jul 2016 14:35:31

New Delhi, July 21: Pakistan is holding assembly elections in the occupied Kashmir, the areas which it calls “Azad Jammu-Kashmir’ (AJK). A total of 2.674 million Kashmiri voters will be electing 41 MLAs of the AJK Legislative Assembly, according to a report published in the Pakistani newspaper, Dawn.

This will be ninth election since the parliamentary form of government was introduced in AJK areas in 1975, the newspaper said.

The polling process stretches to entire Pakistan because 12 MLAs out of the 41 are elected by 438884 Kashmiri voters living in various parts of Pakistan while the remaining MLAs will be elected by the voters in AJK.

Twenty-six political parties and 423 candidates are in the fray but the actual contest is between the nominees of the AJK chapters of three mainstream Pakistani political parties — Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Muslim League-N and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.

The PPP in AJK was launched by Z. A. Bhutto in 1973 and until December 2010 it faced Muslim Conference (MC) as its arch-opponent. But the situation changed in 2010 when Nawaz Sharif launched the PML-N in the region.

The 2011 polls were a neck-and-neck fight between the PPP and the PML-N though the MC was also in the field. As AJK rarely goes against the centre, the PPP secured smooth victory and formed its government. The PML-N also did well by winning 10 seats. The MC, which had ruled for a long time, was reduced to four seats.

However, since Imran Khan’s PTI made a foray into AJK’s political competition, the interest and activity have moved beyond AJK’s boundaries.

The contesting parties have formed alliances or, in some cases, made seat adjustments. For instance, the PML-N has fielded candidates in 38 constituencies and offered two seats in Rawalakot district to the Jammu Kashmir Peoples Party (JKPP), which has sizeable support in the Sudhan-dominant belts of Rawalakot and Sudhnoti districts. One constituency of Kashmiri refugees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has been given by the PML-N to the Jamaat-i-Islami.

The PTI has entered into an alliance as well as seat adjustment with the MC — something needed by both — because while the MC leadership was looking for a way out to check defections from its ranks to other parties, such as the PML-N, the PTI also needed an ally as it lacked strong candidates in some constituencies in the southern districts.

Both parties have fielded joint candidates in 36 constituencies — 28 from the PTI and 8 from the MC. The remaining constituencies have been left open, as nominees of both parties were unwilling to pull out in each other’s favour.

Fissures in the disciplined JI have surprised many. While JI chief Abdul Rashid Turabi has announced support for the PML-N, presumably in return for a reserved seat for himself, his predecessor Sardar Ejaz Afzal Khan is being supported by the MC in Rawalakot after a local-level seat adjustment deal.

Contesting the elections independently, PPP had fielded its candidates in the all 41 constituencies. However, the party is in dire straits for a number of reasons, with its poor performance over the past five years being one of them.

They fear that since nine seats are located in Punjab, the provincial PML-N government can easily manoeuvre to win them for its nominees, the same way the Muttahida Qaumi Movement has been securing two seats in Karachi for its candidates since 2006.

However, given some strict steps were taken by the election commission, these seats may not be a piece of cake in the July 21 polls, assert the officials.

The apparent wave in favour of the PML-N notwithstanding, observers predict a split mandate. But like the politics itself, the voters are also unpredictable. They say politics is a game of possibilities and therefore whoever plays his cards smartly will emerge triumphant on July 21.