MUZAFFARABAD: The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is set to form the next government in Azad Jammu and Kashmir as unofficial results of general elections for 41 direct seats of the AJK Legislative Assembly on Thursday suggested a landslide victory for the party.
In a sharp contrast to the earlier speculation about a split mandate, the PML-N almost wiped out its major rivals — the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) — in most of the districts.
Among the party presidents, Raja Farooq Haider of the PML-N, Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan of the Muslim Conference (MC) and Sardar Khalid Ibrahim of the Jammu Kashmir Peoples Party (JKPP) managed to secure their seats. PTI president Barrister Sultan Mahmood was said to be losing at the hands of PML-N candidate Chaudhry Mohammad Saeed, while PPP president Chaudhry Abdul Majeed had a small lead over his rival.
Barrister Mahmood’s brother-in-law, Chaudhry Arshad, also lost his seat to a PML-N candidate, according to unofficial reports.
Rivals PPP and PTI wiped out in most districts in elections
In Bhimber district, PML-N senior vice-president Chaudhry Tariq Farooq and the party nominee Col Waqar Noor had won from Bhimber city and Barnala, respectively. There was, however, a neck-and-neck fight between independent candidate Ali Shan Soni and PTI’s Chaudhry Razzaq in Samahni.
Of the 10 seats in Poonch division, nine were bagged by the PML-N and its ally JKPP.
In Kotli district, the PML-N was leading in three of the five constituencies.
Of the seven seats in Muzaffarabad division, unofficial results from five suggested victory for the PML-N, while results from the remaining two were awaited till late night.
Of the 12 constituencies of Kashmiri refugees in Pakistan, nine were reportedly clinched by the PML-N, two by the PTI and one by the PPP.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which had been winning both seats in Sindh, also suffered a setback.
Earlier in the day, polling was held in all constituencies smoothly, unlike previous elections, which were mired in allegations of rigging mainly due to flawed electoral rolls and poor law and order arrangements. Polling began at 8am and the turnout remained low during early hours because of hot and humid weather. However, the rush of voters was witnessed in the afternoon until the closing time of 5pm.
The voters who were inside the polling stations by 5pm were allowed to cast their votes. The highest turnout at any polling station was 77 per cent and the lowest 30pc, officials said.
The AJK Election Commission had deployed more than 32,000 law enforcement personnel — 17,000 from the army and the rest from the Frontier Constabulary and Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and AJK police — to maintain law and order and provide a fear-free atmosphere to the voters.
It was for the first time that the army had taken an unusual interest in the AJK elections, with its top brass holding meetings and paying visits to oversee the arrangements vis-à-vis deployments.
Army and police personnel deployed inside and outside the polling stations did not allow entry to any person without seeing his computerised national identity card (CNIC) presentation of which was a must to obtain ballot papers.
In Mirpur, a sitting judge of the AJK Supreme Court was denied ballot paper by the presiding officer after he failed to produce his CNIC.
Although the elections were by and large peaceful, in some areas minor incidents of violence were reported, where rival activists scuffled with each other. According to police sources, about 12 people suffered minor injuries in the clashes.
In two areas, use of firearms was also reported. The officials said one Hafiz Nadim Mir was arrested in Flangar village of Haveli district for resorting to firing into the air. He was sent to jail for three months after a summary trial.
In Kot Tirhala village, some people also resorted to firing, but they escaped arrest.
An official at the election cell told Dawn they had received over 150 complaints about minor issues, such as change of serial numbers of their names in voter lists or disagreement over appointment of polling agents. These were settled immediately.
The Election Commission had banned appointment of polling agents not belonging to the same constituency.
Among some other unfortunate incidents, one Iftikhar Hussain, 35, who was standing in a queue to cast his vote in Dadyal (district Mirpur) lost his life due to sudden cardiac arrest. Another person was killed and five others were wounded when a vehicle carrying voters to a polling station in Khun Banway village, near Muzaffarabad, overturned.
During a visit to a polling station, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Ghulam Mustafa Mughal said he was pleased to see the untiring efforts of the officials concerned had borne fruit to the expectations of the public at large.
“I am sure these elections will be remembered as the most transparent and memorable activity,” he said.
The CEC also flew to Rawalakot and Mirpur and expressed similar views while talking to journalists there.
PML-N president Raja Farooq Haider, who cast his vote in his ancestral village of Salmia, near Chikar, told Dawn that although he was over joyous at the overwhelming support by the Kashmiri people to his party, he was worried as well, at the same time.
“We have been favoured by the people beyond our expectations for which I am highly grateful to them… From now onwards our test begins; if we fail to come up to people’s expectation they will lose faith in us,” he said.
Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2016