Quake-hit Pakistani Kashmiris Shun Islamist Parties
12 July 2006
Muzaffarabad: Pakistani Kashmiris shunned hardline Islamist parties in legislative assembly elections despite their prominent role in reconstruction after last October's earthquake, results on Wednesday showed . Out of 40 declared results for the 41 seats, a government-backed party won 20, while the rest went to other political parties and independents. Despite problems of joblessness, high property prices, slow construction and water and sanitation issues after the quake, Tuesday's vote appeared to have gone in favor of tried and trusted candidates. 'Our choice of candidates is limited. So you see the same old faces. The Islamists failed because people are apprehensive about their hardline views,' said shopkeeper Naeem Qureshi. The earthquake killed 73,000 people and destroyed the homes of more than three million people in Kashmir and North West Frontier Province. The Islamists, who back militant groups fighting Indian rule on the other side of the ceasefire line dividing Kashmir, have not traditionally done well in elections in the region. But there had been speculation that dissatisfaction with the government and their active role in helping victims of the quake might strengthen support for them. In the event, the religious alliance, Muttahida Majlis-e- Amal, fielded 33 candidates in the elections and all of them lost. The ruling All Pakistan Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference , a conservative group, is set to form the next government, although it fared poorly in the main quake-hit areas, including Muzaffarabad, the devastated capital of Pakistani Kashmir.Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan's Peoples Party may end up winning only seven seats. Campaigning has been somber, and on Tuesday voters filed through prefabricated polling centres, tents and buildings scarred by the earthquake. Azad Kashmir, or Free Kashmir, as Pakistan calls its part of a land divided with India, is widely regarded as a puppet of Islamabad, despite having the trappings of independence, with a president, a prime minister and its own constitution. India rejected the polls saying they could not be called 'free and fair'. 'Once again the entire exercise shows the lack of credibility of the electoral process in the so-called AJK (Azad Jammu and Kashmir),' said Navtej Sarna, spokesman Indian ministry for external affairs. Kashmir lies at the heart of a rivalry between India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars - two of them over the Himalayan region - since gaining independence from British rule in 1947.