MUZAFFARABAD: Putting speculations to rest, the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Election Commission on Monday announced that the local government (LG) polls would be held in three phases at division level due to unavailability of security forces from Pakistan.

The announcement, which was made by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) retired Justice Abdul Rashid Sulehria at a hurriedly summoned press conference, drew scathing criticism from the regional leaders of both major opposition parties, PPP and PML-N who termed it a “collusion between the commission and the ruling PTI to rig polls.”

On Sunday, AJK Prime Minister Sardar Tanveer Ilyas had asked chief secretary Usman Chachar to “make it known to the Commission to fulfil its constitutional responsibilityof holding LG polls on the given date on Nov 27,” adding that “deferment or phased elections were not an option before the government.”

In its immediate rejoinder, the Commission had maintained that while it had made complete arrangements for the polling on Nov 27, “ensuring peace through deployment of security forces was the government’s responsibility which could not be passed on to other institutions.”

Says decision taken due to unavailability of security forces from Pakistan

On Monday, the CEC told a meeting of senior government officials that despite requests and messages the federal government seemed to be unwilling to spare security forces for the polls in view of the volatile political situation there.

“Since we have been unable to get the required security forces from the Centre or provinces, we have been left with no option but to hold the process from our own [human] resources in three phases,” announced the CEC at his hurriedly called presser in the evening.

Under the revised schedule, polling in Muzaffarabad, Poonch and Mirpur divisions would be held on Nov 27, Dec 3 and Dec 5, he added.

“In between if we get the forces, we can again revise dates,” he declared.

Commission’s senior member Raja Farooq Niaz said over the past one month the CEC had also written letters to the “quarters concerned” for the deployment, but to no avail.

“Even our request for QRF (quick response force) duties has not been answered.”

The CEC made it clear that his institution was not a party in this matter and added that phased elections were not something unusual but had been held in many parts of the country in the past as well.

When a reporter drew attention towards the teachers strike, he said election duty was mandatory and those who shirked from it would have to face music.

Reaction by PPP, PML-N

In a statement from Kotli, PPP regional president Chaudhry Mohammad Yasin said the Commission had made the announcement in bad faith to rig elections in collusion with the government.

Stating that free and fair polls are not possible without deployment of army and rangers, he declared that PPP would “thwart rigging plans and participate in the polls in protest.”

Separately, PML-N president Shah Ghulam Qadir also rejected phased elections as “non practicable.”

“We demand elections be held across the state in one go on Nov 27 under the supervision of Pakistan army and rangers because free and fair elections under the local administration and police are not possible,” he said.

Mr Qadir later told Dawn by phone that PML-N would however take part in polls, as it did not want to give a walkover to PTI.

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2022

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