The Azad Jammu and Kashmir Election Commission took two decisions that created confusion and chaos in the run-up to the region’s Legislative Assembly election on Sunday (today), raising questions about its own credibility and independence and prompting the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) to boycott the election.
The commission withdrew its decision to require computerised national identity cards (CNIC), bearing address that falls under the jurisdiction of the local polling station, “under pressure” hours after having announced the measure.
Its decision to postpone the elections for three seats representing the Kashmiri diaspora in Karachi and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa prompted the MQM to boycott the election.
The decision to withdraw the CNIC requirement from voting booths has raised fears of rigging in the elections. The commission itself estimates that up to 15% of the names on the electoral rolls may be bogus. Outside observers believe the number to be as high as 30%.
In a bid to limit the possibility of rigging, the election commission had announced on Saturday that it would only accept CNICs as legal identification at the polling booths. Election officials would be required to ensure that only people whose address fell within the jurisdiction of a particular polling booth would be allowed to vote there.
Immediately after the election commission announced the requirement, several political parties, including the ruling Muslim Conference began agitating against it, which raised the spectre of violence on polling day. Within hours, the requirement had been withdrawn.
“It was withdrawn under pressure… you can understand it,” said one senior official of the AJK election commission, who wished to remain anonymous. He did not clarify whether the pressure came from the AJK government or the Pakistan government.
Electoral rolls in Azad Jammu Kashmir have been notoriously flawed for decades.
Earlier attempts to fix the problem through a CNIC requirement have also been met with stiff resistance. Manzoor Gilani, a former chief election commissioner in the region, said that the Legislative Assembly passed a unanimous resolution against him when he tried to initiate such a measure, forcing him to resign.
Meanwhile the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which won two seats from the Kashmiri diaspora in Karachi in 2006, has boycotted the election after the election for the seats in Karachi were postponed.
The announcement was made by deputy convenor of the party’s central coordination committee, Farooq Sattar, at a press conference in Karachi. Sattar blamed the Sindh government for the postponement, even though the announcement came from the AJK Election Commission, which said that the law and order situation in Karachi was not conducive to holding an election.
“The undemocratic, unconstitutional and unethical postponement of the elections in three constituencies is part of a nefarious plot to stop the MQM from emerging as the third option to the Kashmiri people,” claimed Sattar.
The MQM won the two seats for the Kashmiri diaspora in Karachi in 2006 and was expected to win them again this year though most analysts did not rate their chances highly at winning other seats in the AJK Legislative Assembly.
Of the 41 directly elected seats for the AJK Legislative Assembly, 29 are based on the constituencies located within AJK itself and 12 represent the Kashmiri diaspora all over Pakistan. Nine of them are in Punjab, two in Sindh and Balochistan, mainly Karachi, and one for the Kashmiris settled in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Elections were postponed in the latter three. The federal interior ministry, however, claimed in a statement that the MQM and the Pakistan Peoples Party are expected to jointly file a request to the AJK Election Commission asking for a new date for the postponed elections in the three constituencies.
The ministry also denied that it had any role to play in the postponement. (With additional reporting by Umar Nangiana in Islamabad)
Published in The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2011.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ