Elections in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir: A Farce
Mohd. Sadiq

13 July 2006

On 11 July 2006, elections were held to 41 Legislative Assembly seats of Pak occupied Kashmir (PoK). However, these elections were marked by the absence of pro-azadi (freedom) candidates of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and the All Party National alliance (APNA). The elections were also marred by allegations of widespread rigging as political parties including the PML and the MMA alliance claimed that the Musharraf government had rigged the polls in favour of the Muslim Conference which bagged a comfortable majority to form the government.

Dubious Elections
The Election Commission (EC) of PoK had earlier rejected the nomination papers of JKLF candidates as they had refused to sign the condition of accession of PoK with Pakistan. The EC also rejected 30 nominations of APNA, a coalition of other pro-independence parties of PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan for similar reasons. Protest demonstrations against the EC's decision were organised by the JKLF (Amanullah) on the day of the elections. There were 369 candidates in the electoral fray for 41 seats. Twenty-nine of the seats are in PoK and the remaining 12 are in Pakistan reserved for the refugee population. The major political parties/alliance which fought the elections included: Muslim Conference, Muslim League, PPP-PoK, and MQM. These parties fielded 40, 37, 36 and 23 candidates respectively. The People United Action Committee contested the elections for the first time. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam had also fielded its candidates.

AJK Muslim Conference candidate Malik Abdul Manan levelled similar allegations of rigging against the MQM and said that the element of transparency was missing in the elections. He also announced a boycott of the polls on part of his constituency in Sindh and urged the Election Commission to hold fresh elections. Similarly, another candidate of AJK Muslim Conference Sardar Abdul Aziz also announced to boycott the polls. He accused the MQM of mass rigging and bogus voting and demanded re-elections in Sindh. He alleged, ' Kashmiris were threatened to vote for Muttahida candidate in Karachi. Instead of showing identity cards, fake domiciles were showed to cast bogus voting during these elections in Sindh especially in Karachi.'

Similarly, PPP alleged that polls in various AJK Assembly seats in Punjab were rigged, giving rise to the suspicion that free and fair elections could not be held under the current Pakistan government led by General Pervez Musharraf. The voters' turnout was reported to be between 45 to 50 per cent. However, the turnout was apparently low in downtown Muzafarabad as most of the families here were rendered homeless by the 8 October 2005 earthquake and had resettled in far-off areas. Many voters could not cast their votes due to errors in the voters list or for not possessing identity cards. Surprisingly, these lists included the names of those who were already dead but did not include names of many eligible voters. This was brought to the notice of officials by Hassan Shiba Naqvi, a young lawyer, who had contested a by-election. At several polling booths, there were arguments between voters and election officials over the compulsory production of photocopies of national identity cards or any other identification document-a condition, which was partially waived by the election commission a day ago.

The elections were equally marked by violence. There were reports of some people resorting to aerial firing in southern Mirpur district, causing suspension of voting at some polling stations. In Dadyal, four people were injured when two parties clashed with each other, using bricks and batons. As many as four Kashmiri voters were seriously hurt during firing at two polling stations (Sialkot) where rival groups clashed. In the first incident, 15 armed persons led by PPPP's MPA Malik Tahir Akhtar Awan allegedly stormed into a polling station at Kulluwal near Head Marala. Similarly, in Hunterpura locality, 20 unidentified armed men led by Chaudhary Muhammad Suhal, a candidate of the People's Muslim League from LA-32, Jammu III constituency, allegedly stormed into the polling station. After taking the staff and voters hostage, the accused damaged the polling material.

Another fact which casts doubts on the fairness of elections is that General Musharraf gave a separate hearing to Sardar Abdul Qayyum and his son Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan days before the elections. Even the former AJK president Sardar Anwar Khan admitted in an interview to a private TV Channel on 11 July that the said meeting had cast doubts on the transparency of elections. Observers say that if the present ruling dispensation in Islamabad was sincere in holding free and fair elections in Azad Kashmir, it would have allowed international observers to monitor the polls. Moreover, Islamabad should have also allowed parties with different ideologies like the JKLF and APNA to participate in the polls.

Islamabad Not Ready To Give Up Control
With Islamabad not in favour of a political change in Azad Kashmir, the pro-accession ruling Muslim Conference returned to power by winning 31 seats in the 49-member house. The Muslim Conference won 21 seats in direct elections and seven of the eight reserved seats as well. Apart from these, three independent candidates also joined the Muslim Conference giving it a two-thirds majority in the legislative assembly. Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan, who had met with Musharraf before the elections, was sworn in as the prime minister on 24 July 2006. Sardar Attique became the seventh prime minister of Azad Kashmir after the parliamentary form of government was introduced in the region in 1975. Days after Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan took over, on 27 July, Raja Zulqarnain Khan of Muslim Conference was elected as the 21st president of Azad Jammu and Kashmir by securing 40 votes, while his opponent Sardar Qamar Zaman of the Pakistan People's Party Azad Kashmir candidate obtained eight votes. The electoral collage for the election of the AJK president comprises 49 members of the AJK Legislative Assembly, six members of the AJK Council and Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs. A total of 48 votes were cast in the election. Four members of the People's Muslim League (PML) and Sardar Khalid Ibrahim of Jammu Kashmir Peoples Party did not take part in the proceedings.

Rigging during the PoK assembly elections and the results clearly indicate that only those political parties in Pakistan can stake claim to state power which have the blessings of the present military regime under Musharraf. The last elections held for Pakistan's national assembly in 2002 had clearly showed how Musharraf engineered a split in the PML and the PPP to create the PML-QA which won the rigged elections. Observers say that the rigged July 2006 elections in Azad Kashmir are clearly a precursor to the fact that the military administration is not ready to give up political power.