Chief Election Commissioner of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), Justice (retd) Abdul Rashid Sulehria on Thursday announced the schedule for the upcoming general elections of the region’s legislative assembly, fixing July 25 as the polling day.
Sulehria, who was flanked by other members of the election commission, Raja Farooq Niaz and Farhat Ali Mir, told a press conference in Muzaffarabad that the institution would leave no stone unturned to conduct the election process in a free, fair and impartial manner.
"This should also lay to rest speculations or rumours that elections are being or will be delayed," he said.
Of the 45 direct seats of the assembly, 33 are located in AJK territory with over 2.82 million registered voters, including 1.29m women, and 12 are located in Pakistan with 430,456 registered voters, including 170,931 women, he said.
Election commission member Niaz, in response to a question, said the commission would try its best to seek the army's assistance to maintain law and order during the elections. However, in case the army personnel are not available, civilian armed forces and paramilitary troops would be called for the purpose in addition to the AJK police personnel.
Of the elections to be held in 12 constituencies in Pakistan, he said that officers of the Election Commission of Pakistan would be placed at the disposal of the AJK election commission to be appointed as district returning officers and returning officers.
Niaz said the AJK government and the election commission would also request the respective provincial governments concerned to ensure security of polling stations and staff on the polling day.
The CEC declared that after the announcement of the schedule, the government could not make any fresh appointments or transfers or announce or execute new development schemes.
However, in unavoidable cases it will have to seek prior permission from the EC, he said.
When the chief election commissioner was asked if this ban also applied to ongoing regularisation of scores of ad-hoc, temporary and contractual employees that the government had ordered to complete within two weeks under a recently passed law, he replied in the affirmative.
When another journalist repeated a similar question for the sake of clarity, Niaz reiterated that the election commission would not allow any appointment.
“We hope the government will respect this ban and stop appointments,” the EC member said.
According to the schedule, nomination papers will be filed by the candidates before the ROs on or before June 21 by 4pm. But before filing their papers, the candidates will be required to submit details of their moveable and immoveable assets and income and obtain its receipt from the commission.
Scrutiny of nominations will be conducted on the following day from 8am onward and lists of valid nominated candidates will be published by the ROs the same evening.
Aggrieved persons could file appeals against the acceptance or rejection of nomination papers by the ROs before the EC by 2pm on June 27 and the hearings of appeals will be held on June 28-29 while decisions will be announced on June 30 and July 1.
Candidates could withdraw their nominations by July 2, and lists of contesting candidates will be published the following day.
Election symbols to the parties and candidates will be allotted on July 4 before 2pm and the final list of contesting candidates with election symbols will be published on the same day while polling will be held on July 25 from 8am to 5pm.
Code of conduct
The CEC also unveiled a 16-page ‘code of conduct’ for the political parties, candidates and their polling agents, envisaging strict adherence to the legal and constitutional requirements and other guidelines.
Reading out some important points, Justice Sulehria maintained that no candidate, including the AJK premier, speaker, deputy speaker and ministers, would be allowed to use official resources, particularly official vehicles, for election campaigns or else they could be disqualified from contesting elections and the vehicle concerned would be confiscated.
This condition would also apply to the visiting government functionaries from Pakistan, including the prime minister of Pakistan, federal ministers, advisers and special assistants, he declared.
When a reporter drew their attention towards the fact that each of the former AJK presidents and prime ministers was entitled to an official vehicle and 400 litres fuel or its cost per month, they “expressed the hope” that these leaders would not use the same for electioneering.
In view of the Covid-19 situation, big public gatherings and processions have also been banned, the CEC said. However, each candidate could hold one public meeting with prior approval of date, time and place from the deputy commissioner concerned as well as with strict adherence to the SOPs, he added.
He said expenditures by the candidates on electioneering should not exceed Rs5m each, including those expenses not directly made by them but by their political party or agents on their campaign.
There would be a complete ban on display of large hoardings, billboards and panaflex posters as well as wall chalking, he said, warning that violations would be taken as an unlawful activity.
The CEC expressed the hope that all political parties would avoid personal attacks or any such thing that ran the risk of vitiating the peaceful atmosphere of the region.
When asked that a senior member, Niaz, was closely related to Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider and lately Mir was given premature retirement for his present assignment, who could guarantee that they would not show a tilt towards the PML-N, the CEC said that both were "men of above board integrity and credibility."
Mir, however, chipped in that theirs were constitutionally protected positions and they were under oath to do whatever the law and Constitution demanded from them.
He urged the media to support and facilitate the election commission in the discharge of its duties.