Web Desk – July 25, 2021
After a highly charged and divisive election campaign that saw politicians from the three mainstream parties hurl allegations at each other, polling for 45 seats of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Legislative Assembly started on Sunday.
The polling started at 8am and will go on until 5pm without any break, according to a report by Radio Pakistan.
Mediapersons were initially not allowed to report from outside the polling stations but the issue was later resolved on the directions of the AJK Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) retired Justice Abdul Rashid Sulehria.
Officials said they expect up to 60 per cent voter turnout because all political parties were heavily involved in the buildup to the election.
In all, there are 3.22 million voters registered in the 45 constituencies. Among them, 2,817,090 voters are registered in 33 constituencies of the AJK assembly. Of the remaining voters, 373,652 are registered in the six constituencies representing the refugees from occupied Jammu and 29,804 are registered in the six constituencies representing the refugees from occupied Kashmir Valley. These 12 constituencies representing refugees from occupied Jammu and Kashmir Valley have a total of 403,456 registered voters.
Previously, general elections in AJK had predominantly been a contest between the local leaders of the contesting parties, with a low-profile support from their parent parties or like-minded governments in Pakistan.
However, of late these elections have become a do-or-die battle directly between the central leadership of the mainstream parties, relegating their local leadership as well as a few state-based parties to the background.
This year the pre-poll campaign has surpassed the previous records of aggressiveness towards their rivals.
From June 25 when PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari took the lead over the opponents in launching the campaign of his party from Dadyal, followed by PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz and federal ministers Ali Amin Gandapur, Murad Saeed and PM Khan, to July 23 when the campaign ended at midnight, the electorate in AJK heard nothing but allegations, counter-allegations and usual mudslinging in rallies.
“They spewed venom at each other during their speeches … There was much empty rhetoric on Kashmir but no word on the myriad of issues faced by the people in Azad Jammu and Kashmir as well as their likely solutions,” commented Abdul Hakim Kashmiri, a political analyst based in Muzaffarabad.
The Election Commission has asserted that watertight security and other measures taken by it leave no room for rigging.
Farhat Ali Mir, one of the two constitutional members of the commission, told reporters on Saturday that the presiding officers were under an obligation to provide duly signed results of their stations to the agents of all contesting candidates, immediately after the counting, thus eliminating chances of results manipulation.
By Saturday evening, polling material had been dispatched to all respective stations — 5,129 in total, of which 826 had been declared the ‘most sensitive’ and 1,209 as ‘sensitive’ stations.
Results at the polling stations will be announced within an hour after the polling ends, according to the commission officials.