With the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) going to polls today (Thursday), political observers are seeing a drastic change in the voting patterns across the state as a three-way contest is likely to take place between the candidates of three major political entities – Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
Over 2.6 million people will exercise their right to vote in today’s election. As many as 427 candidates, belonging to various political parties as well as independent ones are in the run for 41 seats.
A total of 2,674,586 voters – 1,483,747 men and 1,190,839 women – will exercise their right to vote from 29 constituencies of AJK’s 9 districts and 12 constituencies of Kashmiri refugees, spreading over four provinces of Pakistan to cast their votes.
The PML-N has formed an electoral alliance with the JI while the PTI and Muslim Conference (MC) are in an informal alliance. The ruling PPP is contesting alone for 41 seats.
The political pundits believe the PML-N may win around 15 to 20 seats followed by the PTI, PPP and MC.
Imran Khan’s PTI, which is contesting the polls in AJK for the first time, is set to challenge the hegemony of the PPP and PML-N in AJK politics. However, the PML-N is set for a smooth election win to form a government for the first time in the history of AJK, political observers and activists opine.
The recently held big rallies by Imran have helped the PTI galvanise support for his party. However, observers believe if Imran had installed a clean leadership in AJK, his party would have attracted more young voters than are expected.
The PPP has fielded candidates against all 41 seats, the PML-N has awarded tickets to 38 while the PTI has launched candidates in 34 constituencies. The MC has fielded 24 candidates while Jamat-e-Islami has fielded candidates in alliance with the PML-N.
Talking to Pakistan Today, Abrar Hyder, a senior journalist in Muzaffarabad, said that a three-way contest is likely which would be a new phenomenon for the people of AJK.
“Traditionally, the AJK voters go for the party ruling Pakistan. Due to lack of political maturity and awareness, our voters only follow the suite and they don’t decide on merit,” he observed.
Asked why the people voted for ruling party in Islamabad or Punjab, Hyder said that people here believe if they vote for opposition, they would not be able to get development funds from the centre. He said during the campaign for 2011 polls, the PPP leaders made false promises to the people in AJK and the PML-N is also following the same game plan.
He said since the PML-N is ruling the centre and Punjab, the people are joining the PML-N as they did for PPP before the 2011 elections which was ruling federal capital at that time.
“I believe the people would face humiliation from the PML-N as they were disgraced by the PPP government. Perhaps, people take pleasure in being humiliated time and again,” he added.
Asked about the chances of the PTI’s success, Hyder said that Imran raised charming slogans but he has appointed a tainted politician as the PTI chief of AJK.
Hyder also taunted Imran for award of PTI ticket to a veteran Khwaja Farooq Ahmed from LA-26 Muzaffarabad-III.
“Khwaja Farooq Ahmed was elected MNA in year 1975. So while Imran talks about youth, he gave ticket to a person who has been a politician for 41 years,” he observed.
Bigwigs face tough challenge:
A survey conducted by Pakistan Today has revealed that at least six political bigwigs from the PPP and PML-N are facing a formidable challenge from their opponents who mostly are new faces.
Prime Minister Chaudhry Abdul Majeed faces a tough contest from PTI’s Zafar Anwar and PML-N’s Nazir Inqalabi from his traditional stronghold LA-II, MirpurII Chakswari.
Ch Majeed won six times in the past from this constituency. Most of Jatts and Bains tribes reside in Chakswari. The PML-N issued ticket to Inqalabi, a nominated candidate by Bains. While on other side, Ch Majeed faces a tough challenge from his fellow Jatt, Chaudhry Zafar Anwar of PTI. So this time, Jatt votes may be divided. Hence, newcomers, Inqalabi of PML-N or Anwar of PTI, have better chances to win.
But threat is not looming only for the AJK prime minister. Another PPP stalwart, Chaudhry Yasin, the senior minister of PPP government in AJK, also faces a tough challenge from PML-N’s Raja Iqbal in Charhoi, LA-XI, Kotli-VI. Since PPP’s senior minister Yasin and PTI’s Shaukat Fareed who is a new face, come from the same family, Raja Iqbal of the PML-N is most likely to win, being the only candidate from Jatt family. Moreover, senior leaders of the PPP are also opposing Yasin who has become very controversial among the party’s top brass.
In LA-XIV, Bagh-II, an interesting tough fight is expected in this constituency where PML-N’s expected candidate for prime minister’s slot, Mushtaq Minhas, is expected to lose polls. This seat was won by PPP’s Minister Sardar Qamaruz Zaman who has support from Maldayal clan.
Mihas, the anchor-turned-politician is being rumoured as next prime minister of AJK if he wins the polls. Many PML-N federal ministers also claim Minhas as the ‘brain of PML-N’. Minhas also comes from Maldayal family.
However, Raja Khurshid Ahmed, a candidate nominated by PTI and Muslim Conference jointly is likely to defeat him. So experts believe the votes of Maldayal family would be divided between PPP and PML-N candidates. Moreover, Zaman of PPP cannot see a person who claims to be prime minister of AJK in his presence so he might be extending covert support to Ahmed nominated by PTI and MC alliance that is likely to turn tables on Minhas.
In Muzaffarabad, Khawara-IV, Ch Latif Akbar of PPP also faces strong threat from Raja Abdul Qayyum Khan of the PML-N. Akbar, PPP secretary general, won 2011 elections. The MC also issued ticket to Saqib Majeed Raja so Latif only hopes that Rajpoot votes will get divided. On the other hand, the PTI had issued ticket to Ch Shafqat Gujjar and later canceled it after an alliance with the MC. This made Gujjar angry, who left PTI and joined the PMLN. So now the PML-N will get votes from Rajpoots and Gujjars, leaving Akbar in a tight corner.
In LA-IX, Kotli-II, Sardar Farooq Sikandar of the PML-N faces a tough challenge from PPP’s Javed Iqbal Budhanvi. PTI’s candidate Mohammad Naeem Khan is far behind and so is Sardar Khizar Hayat Khan of the MC.
In LA-VII, Bhimber-III, Ch Tariq Farooq is contesting who won the last election from this constituency and is senior vice president of the PML-N. However, Farooq suffered a blow as Raja Imtiaz left PML-N recently for being denied ticket and joined the PPP to run for the same slot.
While on other side, PTI candidate Ch Inamul Haq is now supporting his real brother Ch Anwarul Haq who is contesting as an independent candidate. Moreover, residents say that Ch Abid Raza of PML-N, who is nominated in many terrorist cases in Gujranwala, is running a campaign for Farooq which would also support the cause for Anwarul Haq.
Abid Raza is being blamed for openly brandishing weapons and carrying flags of banned outfits in across the constituency.
In LA-I, Mirpur-I, last polls were won by Afsar Shahid of PPP. The PML-N awarded ticket to Advocate Ch Masood Khalid and PTI awarded ticket to Azhar Sadiq, the nephew of former AJK minister Ch Yousaf, who had won five times from Dadyal. Due to political issues, Yousaf boycotted PML-N and joined the PTI. So there will be a tough fight between PTI’s Sadiq and Advocate Kahlid of PML-N. The PPP’s negligence has led Afsar Shahid out of elections.
In LA-II, Mirpur-II, PTI president Barrister Sultan Mehmood Chaudhry, who won seven times from this constituency consecutively, is vying for the slot for the eighth time. Ch Saeed, the nominated candidate of PMLN, is contesting election for the first time. Though Barrister Sultan has many opponents, they are not united. PPP’s candidate Ch Ashraf has boycotted elections due to differences with AJK PM Majeed, leaving ground for Sultan.
In LA-28, Hattian Bala, PML-N AJK president Raja Farooq Haider Khan is contesting. He will face challenge from Muhammad Ashfaq Zafar of PPP who lost 2011 elections with a difference of 1000 votes. However, Haider is still favourite.
LA-XIII Bagh-I is a stronghold of MC whose president Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan is contesting. He is a strong candidate of this constituency and his win is on the cards due to support from the PTI. The PML-N’s fielded candidate Raja Iftikhar Ayub is also making efforts to win.