Rigging charges mar AJK polls
11 July 2006
Muzaffarabad: Elections to the Legislative Assembly of Azad Jammu and Kashmir were held on Tuesday, with the counting of votes in progress till late at night, hinting at the ruling Muslim Conference (MC) to appear as the single largest majority party. According to unofficial results, PML chief and former premier Barrister Sultan Mahmood, MC chief Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan and Secretary General Shah Ghulam Qadir returned successful. Chief of People’s Party AJK (PPAJK) Sahibzada Ishaq Zafar was also leading with a narrow margin. While the polling was by and large peaceful in the AJK territory, serious allegations of rigging were levelled against the ruling Pakistan Muslim League and Muttahida Qaumi Movement in the Kashmiri refugees’ constituencies of Pakistan. AJK Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Justice Reaz Akhtar Chaudhry told private television channels that except for minor scuffles in some areas of AJK, the polling was held peacefully. “The idea of setting up polling stations for 500 voters worked well and the voters used their right to franchise with dignity,” he said. He assured that the commission would hold full inquiry into the allegations of rigging. Twenty-nine constituencies of the AJK assembly are located in the AJK territory and 12 in Pakistan. Polling in one of the constituencies was cancelled by district returning officer Narowal on the complaints of rigging. Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and PPAJK alleged that the governments of Punjab and Sindh and the local administration had used their clout to manipulate the results. The MMA further alleged that the Election Commission officials did not entertain their phone calls meant for informing them of the bogus polling. The PPAJK accused President General Pervez Musharraf and the federal government of overtly supporting the ruling MC, particularly after he gave audience to Sardar Abdul Qayyum and his son Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan about a week ago. Even AJK President Sardar Anwar Khan, in an interview with a private TV channel on Tuesday, admitted that the said meeting had put the transparency of the AJK elections in doubt. However, rejecting the allegations, Sardar Attique said his meeting with President Musharraf had nothing to do with the elections. He said his party was heading towards a clear victory and would again form government in AJK. Meanwhile, early on the turnout was poor in downtown Muzaffarabad as most of the families, having been rendered homeless in the wake of the October 8 earthquake, had found abodes in far-off areas. Later on, people started showing up, but the up but the turnout was still low as compared to that in previous elections. However, in the less-affected peripheries, voters turned out in big numbers. Many voters could not cast their votes due to errors in the voters’ lists or for not possessing identity cards. “I had contested a bye-election from this constituency. But now I don’t find my name in the voters’ list. These lists do have the names of the dead, but the names of many eligible voters are missing,” complained a young lawyer, Hassan Shiba Naqvi. Arguments between voters and election officials over the compulsory production of photocopies of national identity cards or any other identification document - a condition which was partially waived by the election commission a day ago – delayed polling at many places. Polling stations were set up in prefabricated makeshift tents where polling continued till 5pm despite showers. Personnel of law enforcement agencies kept patrolling around the polling stations. While the voters and supporters of the various parties remained peaceful in Muzaffarabad, there were reports of some people resorting to aerial firing in southern Mirpur district, causing suspension of voting at some polling stations. In Dadyal, four people were injured when two parties, locked in an old enmity, clashed with each other, using bricks and batons.