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ISLAMABAD: Election campaign in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) is in full swing as political parties are eyeing the lion’s share in AJK’s future power arrangement that would emerge after July 25 elections. Although, several political parties are participating in AJK elections but real electoral battle seems to be between Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the ruling party in Pakistan, and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), the outgoing ruling party in AJK.

Traditionally AJK polls are considered an “establishment show” and election after election has shown the ruling party in the centre forming the government in AJK.

However, this time around, the opposition parties are hopeful that recent setbacks in by-elections have dented PTI’s political graph in AJK and PML-N, arch political rival of PTI is set to cash in on the situation.

But political sources maintained that differences between opposition parties and internal cracks in the PML-N would benefit PTI in the AJK polls.

A senior PML-N senator, on condition of strict anonymity, told Business Recorder that PML-N is faced with at least five serious challenges on AJK political front.

These factors, the insider explained, are: (i) the ubiquitous security establishment is strongly opposed to the formation of PML-N government in AJK; (ii) Internal differences in PML-N are likely to impact on AJK polls; (iii) PML-N and Muslim Conference (MC) are regarded as two different political parties with similar ideology and PML-N fears that MC would split the N-League’s vote bank in AJK polls; (iv) Lack of good governance in AJK under the leadership of Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider which leaves little for N-League to offer its voters in election campaign; and (v) Federal government officials under the leadership of Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltitsan Ali Amin Gandapur are actively lobbying against PML-N in AJK and are hopeful that PTI would defeat PML-N in AJK as it did in G-B elections.

The source said the PML-N is still undecided who would lead PML-N’s election campaign in AJK — Shehbaz Sharif or Maryam Nawaz — although Shehbaz Sharif has indicated that he himself would lead the party’s election campaign in AJK.

Speaking to Business Recorder, Rana Sanaullah denied that there are any differences within PML-N regarding AJK elections campaign. He said Shehbaz, being the party president, is leading N-League campaign for AJK polls.

“This does not mean that Maryam Nawaz has been sidelined. She as well as other party leaders including Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal and I are actively engaged in AJK election campaign,” he said.

To a question, he said, a plan is under consideration to arrange separate visits of Shehbaz and Maryam to AJK in order to give momentum to the AJK campaign.

“You have seen the results of recent by-elections and you will see the results of AJK polls. PTI is destined to face humiliating defeat,” he said.

Regarding PTI’s success in G-B polls, Sanaullah said: “There are serious questions of credibility of G-B elections—who influenced those elections is an open secret. But if elections are held free and fair in AJK, then PML-N would make a clean sweep.”

PML-N insiders said the party leadership is concerned that PTI and MC are in backdoor negotiations for AJK polls that would potentially affect PML-N.

Outgoing PM AJK Raja Farooq Haider was once a senior leader of MC and was previously elected as AJK PM on MC ticket before a campaign against him led by another MC leader Sardar Attique Ahmad Khan led to Haider’s ouster from power and Attique became PM in 2010. PPP won the elections and remained in power from 2011 to 2016. In 2016, PML-N won AJK elections and formed government in AJK with Farooq Haider the PM.

Elections are scheduled on 45 AJK Legislative Assembly seats on July 25. Out of these seats, 33 are in AJK and 12 seats fall in Pakistan reserved for refugees from Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) settled in Pakistan.

PTI has fielded 41 candidates for AJK polls followed by PML-N’s 36 candidates while PPP has fielded only eight candidates. Barrister Sultan Mahmood is PTI’s AJK President, Raja Farooq is PML-N AJK President and Chaudhry Latif Akbar is PPP AJK President.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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