Elections for 38 AJK seats today
By Tariq Naqash
MUZAFFARABAD: More than 2.9 million voters will elect their representatives in 38 of the 41 constituencies of Azad Kashmir Legislative Assembly on Sunday.
The polling in three constituencies for Kashmiri refugees in Pakistan has been postponed because of security concerns and in the wake of allegations about registration of bogus voters.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement has announced boycott of the elections in protest against the postponement of polls in two constituencies currently represented by its workers.
The Election Commission withdrew late on Saturday night an earlier notification directing presiding officers (PO) to issue ballot papers to only those voters who produce their original CNIC and proof of being a permanent resident of the constituency.
It also withdrew an order of Chief Election Commissioner Khwaja Mohammad Saeed to district returning officers (DRO) and returning officers (RO) that they should check double or triple entry of votes and retain only the vote enrolled in the permanent residence of the voter concerned.
Earlier in the day, MQM activists took out processions in Muzaffarabad, Abbottabad and Karachi against the postponement of polling in LA-30 (Jammu and others-I) and LA-36 (Valley-I). The constituencies have a major chunk of MQM voters (74,829) based in Karachi and Hyderabad.
The party accused Interior Minister Rehman Malik and the Sindh IG of hatching a conspiracy under the “patronage of PPP-led government”.
However, Tariq Mahmood Butt, a spokesman for the EC, told Dawn that the CEC had taken the decision after receiving a report from the IG office on the security situation in the two constituencies, along with a recommendation to postpone the polls till normalisation of law and order.
“A conspiracy has been chalked out to create law and order and attack/assassinate returning officers in LA 30 and LA 36 and extraordinary security measures need to be taken for protection of polling staff and stations,” he quoted the report as saying.
He said that unless the agencies responsible for maintaining law and order gave a favourable report, the EC could not proceed.
About LA 41 (Valley VI), located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Mr Butt said the polling there had been postponed because of controversy over 500 votes out of a total 7,082 registered votes.
He said these voters had been challenged by different people as being non-state subjects and when the EC started the verification process, these were challenged in the AJK High Court. The court directed the CEC on Friday to take a decision about their retention or otherwise after a hearing of the voters concerned.
Mr Butt said since there was no time to hear all the voters the CEC was left with no option but to postpone the poll.
He said the EC notification and order to the POs, DROs and ROs regarding the permanent place of residence was aimed at averting double and triple voting by people who had unlawfully got themselves enlisted at more than one place. But the decision was criticised by Prime Minister Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan of the ruling Muslim Conference, who accused the EC of “going beyond its authority”.
A PPP candidate from LA 26 (Muzaffarabad-III) had submitted to the election commission an application alleging that about 3,800 dual or fake votes had been enrolled in his constituency at the behest of the AJK premier after he decided to launch his son Usman Attique from there.
SECURITY ARRANGEMENTS: EC Secretary Mohammad Younas Mughal told Dawn that commission had sought the deployment of 16,000 police and paramilitary personnel in 29 constituencies, but had been promised 10,000 personnel.
People are fearful of an outbreak of violence on the polling day after reports that weapons-laden vehicles were spotted in several areas, particularly in the southern Mirpur division.
On Saturday evening, a woman was reported to have been injured after a clash between PPP and PML-N workers in Muzaffarabad.
Mr Mughal said 5,566 polling stations, with 8,391 polling booths, had been set up in all 41 constituencies. At least 626 polling stations have been declared most sensitive and 886 sensitive.
However, AJK police chief Dr Tarik Ahmed Khokhar told Dawn that he was satisfied with security arrangements. He said that 12,000 law enforcement personnel had been called up for election assignment.
“Police personnel have been deployed and paramilitary troops will take their respective positions on Sunday morning,” he said, adding that help of army personnel would be sought in the event of an emergency.
CANDIDATES: After the postponement of polling in three constituencies, the number of candidates is now 94 for nine constituencies in Pakistan and 296 candidates in 29 constituencies in Azad Kashmir. They are contesting from the platform of 22 political parties as well as in independent capacity.
Activists of pro-independence parties are not taking part in the polls as their nomination papers have been rejected for not abiding by a constitutional provision which makes it mandatory for a candidate to declare support for Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan.
“The present electoral exercise is a fraud and people are completely dissatisfied with it,” the Jammu Kashmir Students Liberation Front said.