ISLAMABAD: Welcoming the move to hold local government (LG) elections in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) after 31 years, leaders of various political parties and prominent social activists expressed the hope that the electoral exercise at the grass-root level would positively change the social, political and economic structure of Azad Kashmir. They unanimously agreed that elections should be held in AJK without delay and on a regular basis.

Speaking at the round-table conference organised under the auspices of the Centre for Peace, Development and Reforms (CPDR) prominent businessmen and CPDR president Zulfiqar Abbasi said the democratic system of the government remained incomplete without a local government system because it was the local government that engaged ordinary citizens in decision-making and ensured their participation in the government.

He expressed the hope that after local elections, slated to be held before Nov 30, fresh leadership would emerge and it would lead the region towards rapid socio-economic development and prosperity.

Zulfiqar Abbasi said after the election of local body representatives, resources will be used according to needs of the common man and the chances of corruption will also decrease. He said that the government should make adequate arrangements for the training of representatives elected from local bodies so that they can effectively play their role.

Analyst Ershad Mahmud told participants that more than 5,500 people will be elected in local bodies elections, to be held in the mid of next month. It seems that around 15,000 people will participate in this election process, he said.

By and large, he said, hereditary politics will also come to an end and gradually, transparency will enter the system. At the local level, people will present their problems to the elected representatives and they will solve them with available financial resources, he said, adding that a consensus should be created between all parties regarding local bodies elections so that all parties work together to empower the elected representatives financially and administratively, and not block their way.

Former secretary Raja Irshad Khan, principal retired Kousar Hussain Kausar, Abdul Halim Shah, Tahir Ahmad Abbasi, Tariq Chughtai, Syed Nobat Shah, Dr Taskeen Iqbal, Azhar Hussain Shah, Dr Masood Anwar, Sardar Saqib Naeem, Shaukat Taimur, Syed Zahid Bukhari, Syed Afraz Gardazi, Miss Rubina Naz and others discussed the importance and effectiveness of the local government system.

Educationist Kousar Hussain Shah said that local government bodies are kept inactive under various pretexts. If there were strong local government bodies, more effective and efficient leadership would have come forward.

Speaking on the occasion, Irtaza Mohammad, a social worker associated with CPDR informed the audience about the background of local bodies in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and said that ordinary citizens will become shareholders in power through local elections.

Former secretary Raja Irshad said that political elites and powerful bureaucracies have been against devolving financial and legislative powers to the grassroots level. However, he appreciated the fact that the local government system is finally being restored. People from different parties participating in the event expressed their commitment towards participating in the election in a vigorous manner and to leave no stone unturned to support the local bodies at the party level.

Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2022

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