Despite having a higher literacy rate than most areas in Pakistan, voting patterns in Azad Jammu Kashmir depend largely on clan loyalty, with even the most educated of party workers having little clue as to what it is in their party manifesto.
So critical is the clan loyalty factor in AJK elections that party leaders seek out candidates with the largest clans and the deepest roots inside their communities.
With campaigning officially ending at the stroke of midnight on Saturday night, the region prepares to go to the polls on Monday, June 26. Yet the campaign season itself has revealed several idiosyncrasies about Kashmiri society and politics.
Manifestos, for instance, seem unimportant to nearly all of the political activists in the region. Most cannot identify what their own party stands for, let alone why they do not choose to vote for another party. The parties themselves do not seem to have bothered either: It is exceedingly difficult to find a printed copy of any political party’s manifesto, even in Muzaffarabad, the capital city, whose citizenry is dominated by educated civil servants.
Most government officials claim to be ignorant of the law that forbids them from participating in election campaigns. Officials from the Election Commission frequently ignore political activity by civil servants taking place right in front of them, even when it involves the blatant use of government property for political purposes.
Despite laws against it, the region’s prime minister, opposition leader and nearly all members of the Legislative Assembly have kept their government vehicles, with their signature green licence plates, and are using them for their election campaigns.
“We take notice whenever we receive any complaints. We have issued suspension orders to 17 government officials found running campaigns of different parties,” said AJK election commission secretary Muhammad Younas.
Yet some retired officials claim that enforcing election laws is not in the interest of any political party, making it difficult for any bureaucrat to prevent corrupt practices. Manzoor Gilani, a retired judge who also served as the AJK’s acting chief justice, said that he resigned after the Legislative Assembly passed a unanimous resolution against him. His crime: suggesting that a computerised national identity card be made the only acceptable form of identification for voting.
Meanwhile, the major political parties seem to have spared no expense in their election campaigns, apparently choosing to ignore the Rs500,000-per-candidate limit on spending set by the election commission.
The PML-N’s office in Muzaffarabad has a jumbo size projector, along with very large loudspeakers which blare party songs and speeches by party leaders. Just yards away, in front of the largest hospital in all of AJK, the PPP has a similar setup.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2011.
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