AJK’s ugly elections

Published July 27, 2021

AS widely expected, the PTI has won a comfortable majority of seats in the Azad Kashmir elections brushing aside the challenge from both the PPP and PML-N. Prime Minister Imran Khan will now nominate a prime minister for AJK from among two hopefuls whose names have been doing the rounds in party circles.

By winning the election, the PTI has upheld the tradition of the ruling party in Islamabad forming the government in Muzaffarabad. It has enough reason to be satisfied with its performance and Prime Minister Imran Khan is justified in giving his team a pat on the back. Yet, there are problems.

Read: Gloating and allegations aplenty as PTI, opposition trade barbs over AJK election results

As election campaigns go, this was one of the ugliest in recent times. The tone and tenor of speeches, the intensity of partisan attacks and the level of personal mudslinging was, to say the least, abominable. All party leaders focused on insulting their rivals instead of talking about issues concerning the AJK electorate. These leaders brought their animosity and mutual loathing into the AJK arena and polluted the air with their toxic brand of politics. They had no qualms about relegating the issues of Kashmir into the background and highlighting instead what they considered the most damaging aspects of their rivals’ politics. Charges of treason were bandied about callously and allegations of a ‘sellout’ of the Kashmir cause were flung without any substantiation.

This reduced the campaign to the level of a street brawl. It was sad to see cabinet ministers resorting to violent and sexist rhetoric and PML-N leaders peddling anti-Semitic language to tarnish their opponents. If this were not bad enough, election day too saw a flare-up of violence and the usual charges of electoral malpractices. The PML-N and PPP have both pointed to what they call rigging in various forms even though the PPP has bagged a respectable number of seats. There will be a few days of accusations and counter-accusations but at the end, the government formation in Muzaffarabad will ensue and a PTI nominee will take oath as the prime minister.

Read: A request to PM Imran and Maryam: Can we keep anti-semitism and children out of politics?

It should, however, be of concern to the collective political leadership that the AJK polls have once again shown — if ever more evidence was needed — that the system in place is incapable of producing an election that can be accepted by all stakeholders. The responsibility for this failure is shared by many players: the AJK Election Commission for being unable to enforce transparency and credibility, the police and local administration for failing to secure life and property, and the political parties for not acknowledging the weakness of the system and showing the will and capacity to reform it. A bigger disaster awaits us if these multiple failures are not addressed meaningfully. The general elections are two years away and if they are conducted like the AJK ones, we are in for serious trouble.

Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2021

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