Azad Kashmir Election: Where does PTI stand?

by Ershad Mahmud
The Azad Kashmir Election 2021 is around the corner and the election campaigns have entered into the final phase. However, ahead of the elections, both Muslim League-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party have jointly expressed their apprehension that the AJ&K elections will be rigged as if the whole rigging scheme has been hatched under their supervision. Both these parties separately ruled Azad Kashmir for five consecutive years.  In the last general election 2016, the PPP won just three seats in the Legislative Assembly. Now, the chances of the Muslim League-N winning the election are quite slim. Even its top-notch leadership is in the deep troubled water.
The majority of the people of AJK is educated and practice pragmatism in politics. Although, most of them still upkeep their clan and also favour political dynasties, yet they often welcome new parties and ideas too. It is widely acknowledged among the masses that the institutional relationship between the Governments of Azad Kashmir and Pakistan should be cordial to ensure political stability and to achieve the objective of making AJK prosperous and progressive. 
The overseas Kashmiris, a core constituency of Prime Minister Imran Khan, have also played a vital role in strengthening the political position of the PTI in the region. Nearly twenty-five per cent of the Kashmiri population lives abroad, especially in the United Kingdom and the United States. The vast majority of them are sick and tired of the current rotten governance system and desperate to see a positive change back home. The diaspora always plays a significant role in swaying voters and forming public opinion in the AJK elections.  

Last year, Prime Minister Imran Khan made a revolutionary decision to issue a health card to the entire population of Azad Kashmir which benefited thousands of families. The health card increased the popularity of PM Imran Khan and the acceptance of PTI across Azad Kashmir. Recently, Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced an economic package of PKR 370 billion for Gilgit-Baltistan. The people of Azad Kashmir expect that a similar development package for Azad Kashmir is also in the offing, provided PTI wins the elections. Prime Minister Imran Khan is greatly interested in the promotion of tourism.

The PML-N’s political positioning regarding the national security institutions did not go down well in AJK. Keep in mind that Azad Kashmir is a part of a disputed region where a large rival army is standing on the other side of the 700-km-long Line of Control which divides the Indian-held Kashmir, and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The citizens of AJK are indiscriminately being targeted with heavy fire which forces them to evacuate their homes, leaving their livelihood sources behind. In this background, people in AJK cannot imagine harbouring animosity with the national security institutions. The Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir, Raja Farooq Haider, emerged as one of the key proponents of the Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz’s political ideologies which drastically reduced the pace of PML-N’s electoral success.

Young people make up about 60 per cent of the population of Azad Kashmir. The ruling Muslim League government made thousands of ad hoc employees permanent through a cabinet decision two months ago. Most of them were known loyalists of the ruling class and had failed competitive exams. The decision triggered a furious reaction on a large scale and a large number of young people took Muslim League by surprise on social media. On the contrary, the PTI promised the youth that it would ensure the supremacy of merit by annulling the decision.

The PTI has an advantage over other parties i.e., it is a new party and has never ruled AJK before. In contrast; the PML-N, the PPP and the Muslim Conference had been in power, and people have already witnessed their style of Governance. The citizens of AJK are fed up with the same faces and slogans, and are desperately waiting for a significant change. In addition, a number of seasoned politicians, commonly known as electables, have become joined the PTI’s ranks, seeing its popularity and prospects for power. These electables have an effective vote bank in their respective constituencies. Even former Chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami Abdul Rashid Turabi has announced his support for the PTI in his native constituency.

Prime Minister Imran Khan also took a strong stand on the Kashmir issue. After August 5, 2019 when India abrogated Article 370 and 35 A of its constitution, he made every effort to sway global public opinion against the drastic Indian measures. He has consistently been raising his voice for the people of Kashmir at different platforms, from the UN General Assembly to various other world forums. His efforts also enhanced the PTI’s popularity across Jammu and Kashmir.

Additionally, Prime Minister Imran Khan himself addressed numerous public events at various places in Azad Kashmir. His visits to AJK significantly changed public opinion and gave the PTI a substantial edge over the rival parties. After studying all the trends and analysis, it can be said with confidence that PTI will easily stand out in elections and form government in Azad Kashmir.

The writer is Islamabad/Rawalakot based contributor. He can be reached at ershad.mahmud@gmail.com

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