The outcome of elections in Azad Jammu and Kashmir lived up to its tradition, with the party ruling Islamabad — the PTI in the current case — having emerged as the majority party. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party clinched at least 25 out of the 45 general seats in the AJK Legislative Assembly, according to unofficial results. The PPP bagged 11 seats in the vote held on Sunday, turning out to be the leading opposition party and the PML-N secured a paltry six. One seat each was won by the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Party and the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference. Result on one seat is withheld.
Unfortunately, violence at polling stations appeared to be the biggest story of the day. Incendiary speeches in the run-up to the polls clearly led to their logical conclusion. At least two people — reportedly PTI activists — were fatally shot during a brawl with PPP party workers. Injuries were also reported during brawls at several other polling stations.
It is thus surprising that the state’s chief election commissioner is trying to downplay the violence by saying that unpleasant incidents are common occurrences during elections. Abdul Rashid Sulehria should be aware that at least two people are dead because of failures on the part of election managers — led by him — after their tall claims of ensuring tight security. Downplaying these deaths as ‘unpleasant incidents’ shows a remarkable lack of concern for human life. Would he console the victims’ families by shrugging his shoulders and saying their deaths were ‘unpleasant’?
And, how could an election be held in Pakistan without the allegations of rigging! As the unofficial results started pouring in, the PPP and PML-N wasted no time in accusing the PTI of interfering in the election process, besides being behind the violence.
PML-N leader Marriyum Aurangzeb claimed her party’s polling agents were not allowed to monitor the polls and that polling materials were being transported in PTI vehicles. To Maryam Nawaz, the PML-N vice-president and the party’s lead campaigner in the electioneering, the AJK elections were a repeat of Daska vote — a reference to the infamous February 2021 National Assembly bye-election in a tehsil of Sialkot district which was marred by unprecedented rigging as well as violence. So much so that the election commission had to order a re-election in the entire constituency.
Former prime minister of Pakistan Raja Pervez Ashraf of the PPP also accused the PTI of instigating violent incidents, including an attack on PPP leader Chaudhry Yasin. He also accused PPP elected leaders of interfering in polling around the country.
While PTI supporters may frame the opposition leaders’ remarks as sour grapes, the controversial comments and conduct of federal minister Ali Amin Gandapur in the lead-up to the elections lends credence to the accusations. From violent language to alleged bribery, Gandapur’s indefensible behaviour led to the election commission chucking him out of the state. Gandapur did not follow the order and continued electioneering in the state without any repercussions so far. It is unfortunate that his conduct and behaviour is said to have the backing of the party’s high-ups.
The unsatisfactory — if not poor — conduct of elections in AJK does emphasise the need for genuine electoral reforms so that election results are acceptable to all.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2021.
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