While campaigning for the Azad Jammu Kashmir Legislative Assembly elections has been picking up steam for several months, the real political contest in the region may not be between the major political parties but rather within the leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party, which is expected to win comfortably.
The PPP emerged as the strongest contender after December 2010 when it absorbed the Peoples Muslim League, a party led by former AJK Prime Minister Barrister Sultan Mehmood Choudhary. But while the merger between the two parties has turned the PPP into AJK’s political juggernaut, the leadership competition within the party seems to be just as intense as the electoral competition as a whole.
Sources familiar with the party’s dynamics say that the PPP seems to be divided into two factions: one led by Choudhary and the other led by the party’s president, former AJK Speaker Choudhary Abdul Majeed. Sources say Majeed has been able to maintain a stranglehold on the leadership of the party by maintaining close ties with the Presidency in Islamabad.
Given that the party is the frontrunner in the election, both candidates have been working furiously to ensure the other’s electoral defeat, and securing their own position as leading candidate for the position of AJK prime minister.
Choudhary seems to be winning on this front. He is contesting the election from LA-3, representing his hometown of Mirpur where he faces little in the way of serious opposition.
Meanwhile, Majeed has a stiff challenge in his own constituency (LA-2: Mirpur & Chaksowari), where the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz’s Sarfaraz Khan has been gaining momentum. Majeed may also lose votes to some independent candidates in LA-2, which may give Sarfaraz Khan just enough advantage to win against him.
The PML-N, likely to emerge as the second-largest party, has been facing problems of its own. The party’s AJK leader, Raja Farooq Haider Khan, is so worried about his own electoral prospects that he is taking the unprecedented step of competing from two constituencies: LA-22 Hattain Bala and LA-26 Muzaffarabad.
Even this strategy may not work out, since he reportedly faces strong competitors in both. In Raja Farooq’s native Hattain Bala, his primary challenger is PPP AJK’s vice president Sahibzada Ishaq Zaffar. Raja Farooq’s chances have also been damaged by the fact that the Muslim Conference, from which Raja had defected to join the PML-N, has fielded a senior party leader, Ali Khan Choughtai.
The party does not expect Choughtai to win but hopes to punish Raja for his defection by taking away just enough of his votes to ensure that he loses. The Muslim Conference is also seeking to punish him in Muzaffarabad, where the former AJK Prime Minister Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan’s son, Usman Ali Khan is contesting a three-way race that also includes the PPP’s Khawaja Farooq Ahmed as a strong contender.
PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Mirpur, where the national leader campaigned alongside Raja Farooq may help, but he faces tough odds to win even one of the two seats.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2011.