Hung parliament likely in Azad Kashmir polls
9 July 2006
The Daily Times
Islamabad: The Azad Jammu and Kashmir Election (AJK) Commission and the AJK government have finalised arrangements for the tomorrows (July 11) general elections for the eighth Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Legislative Assembly. Over 2.4 million voters will elect 41 legislators. The election campaign ended on Sunday at midnight. The AJK Election Commission has established 3,750 polling stations for the voters. The Pakistan Army will help the local civil administration maintain law and order in the AJK, while the Pakistan Rangers will be deployed in polling stations in 12 refugees constituencies spread all over Pakistan. According to the Election Commission, there are 2.4 million registered voters in AJK, including 546,031 voters in Jammu, 35,256 in the Kashmir Valley and 1,826,180 in the AJK. A number of smaller parties are also contesting the elections along with the two traditional archrivals, the ruling All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference (MC) and AJK Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). In the 49-member AJK Assembly, 41 members are elected directly, while the remaining eight reserved seats, including five seats for women, one for technocrat, one for religious scholars and one for overseas Pakistanis, will be filled after the elections by legislators. The AJK Election Commission, headed by Justice Riaz Akhtar, has made elaborated arrangements for the polls and has enforced a code of conduct for the candidates that includes ban on use of loud speakers and holding processions and rallies. The candidates were allowed to hold corner meetings, containing no more than 250 participants. Every candidate was allowed to hold only one big public gathering and the use of loudspeaker was only restricted to the limits of the meetings premises. Along with the AJK police, 15,000 army personnel would be deputed on the elections day. Both the MC, led by Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan, and the PPP, led by Sahibzada Ishaq Zafar, have suffered severe setbacks due to the recent splits in their parties. Other parties and factions include the Peoples Muslim League, a breakaway faction of the PPP led by former prime minister Sultan Mehmood, and the Muslim Conference Haqiqi, a forward block of the MC led by Chaudhry Aziz. In a major development, the Azad Kashmir Muttahida Majlis e Amal (MMA), an affiliated party of the MMA, and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) are taking part for the first time in the AJK elections and both of them are in a strong position among Kashmiri refugees seats in Karachi and Peshawar. The Muslim League (Hayat), the JK Liberation League, the JK Plebiscite Front and the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front are also taking part in the elections. Recent meetings of the MC leadership with President General Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and key Pakistan Muslim League leaders have boosted the MCs popularity. According to political analysts, the MC enjoys has strong support in 18-19 constituencies, including one out of the four seats in Mirpur district, one out of the three seats in Bhimber district, four out of the five seats in Kotli district, two out of the seven seats in Muzaffarbad and Neelum districts, one out of the two seats in Sadhoonti district, three out of four seats in Bagh district and one seat in Punch district. The party has also a strong following in Rawalakot district. MC President Sardar Attique is contesting from Dheerkot. Mehmood is contesting from Mirpur city (Mirpur 4) constituency and close contest between Arshad Ghazi of the MC and him is expected, while Sahibzada Ishaq Zafar faces Raja Farooq from Muzaffarad-Chikar (Muzaffarad 5). Traditionally, a majority of the refugee seats in Pakistan usually vote for the party supported by the ruling party in Pakistan. Analysts this time expect the MC to win seven to eight of the 12 refugee seats. The Muslim Conference Haqiqi group has also fielded candidates that have strong backing in a number of constituencies and their candidates Chaudhry Aziz and Haji Yaqoob, are expected to easily win their seats. Taking all these factors into account, analysts predict that no single party would be able to have a clear lead in the polls. The first Legislative Assembly of AJK was established in 1971 under an act and Sardar Mohammad Abdul Qayyum Khan was elected as the first elected president. That Assembly consisted of 25 members, including one women member. It passed the Interim Constitution Act, 1974, and parliamentary system for the government was introduced in the AJK. The second assembly was elected in 1975 and was dissolved in 1977 due to enforcement of martial law in Pakistan. Although martial law was not enforced in the AJK, elections were not held until 1985 and a brigadier of Pakistan Army continued to act as the chief executive of AJK. The third assembly was elected in 1985 and completed its tenure. This assembly initially consisted of 42 members, however, later on the Interim Constitution Act, 1974 was amended and six more seats were added. Hence the total membership of the Assembly became 48. The fourth assembly was established in 1990 after general elections, which was dissolved in 1991. The fifth assembly was came to power in 1991 and continued functioning until 1996. The six assembly was elected in 1996 and completed its tenure. The seventh assembly was elected in 2001 and will complete its tenure on July 31. A separate constituency was created for Muzaffarabad city last year enhancing that increased the strength of the house to 49.