ISLAMABAD: Over 3.2 million voters are going to exercise their right to elect their representatives for the 53-member Legislative Assembly of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Sunday (Jul 25) for a five-year term.

A total of 724 candidates (with only 20 women contesting) from 32 political and religious parties will contest for 45 general seats this year - 33 in Kashmir valley and 12 seats allocated for Kashmiri refugees. There are eight reserved seats - five for women and one each for religious scholars, technocrats, and overseas Kashmiris. The members for these seats are nominated after the elections.

Background interviews with people from different backgrounds showed that a tough contest is expected a PTI, Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

There are two major contributory factors in AJK elections. First, traditionally the ruling party in Pakistan wins the AJK elections given that it is the federal government that allocates a budget for the AJK government; yet there is intense speculation this time around that PTI may not win an overall majority because it recently won only four bye elections out of 16 in national and provincial assemblies Pakistan - a scenario that is unusual in our electoral history as bye elections are usually won by the party in power.

Second, elections in AJK are contested mainly on the Baradari system with predominant clans being Jaats, Gujjars, Rajas, Syeds, Abbasis, Sudhans, Afridis and a few others. However these clans change loyalties quite easily from election toe election normally in favour of the ruling party. The Muslim Conference, backed by Abbasis and Rajas, offered an alliance to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) however Prime Minister Imran Khan decided to defer the decision till after the elections leading to the conclusion that he is confident of winning an overall majority.

According to an anecdotal survey carried out by Business Recorder in Mirpur PTI is leading on two constituencies while one each is dominated by PML-N and PPP.

On LA-1 Mirpur-I, PTI has fielded Chaudhry Azhar Sadiq while PML-N has fielded former minister Chaudhry Khalid Masood and PPP gave ticket to former minister Chaudhry Afsar Shahid. Muslim Conference has fielded Ghulam Rabbani. Though Prime Minister AJK Farooq Haider is unhappy with Masood Khalid, PML-N's Masood Khalid is leading while PTI's Azhar Sadiq is trailing him.

On LA-2, Mirpur-II, PPP has fielded Qasim Majeed, the son of former AJK prime minister Chaudhry Majeed. Nazir Inquilabi is contesting from PML-N ticket while Zafar Anwar is contesting on PTI ticket. A tough contest is expected between PTI and PPP.

On LA-3, Mirpur-III, former minister Chaudhry Mohammad Saeed is contesting on PML-N ticket while PTI has fielded former prime minister and PTI AJK president Barrister Sultan Mehmood Chaudhry. PPP has fielded Chaudhry Mohammad Ashraf. A tough contest is expected between PTI and PML-N but Sultan Mehmood has a slight edge.

In LA-4 Mirpur-IV, PML-N's former minister Chaudhry Rukhsar is pitched against PTI's Chaudhry Arshad Hussain and PPP's Faiz Hameed Faizi. A tough battle is expected between PTI and PML-N.

In three Bhimber constituencies, two PTI candidates are in lead while one is being led by the PPP. The PML-N has marginal lead on one constituency while PTI is trailing closely behind.

LA-5 Bhimber-I, PML-N has fielded former minister Col (retd) Waqar Noor, while PTI has fielded Chaudhry Anwarul Haq and PPP has awarded ticket to former minister Chaudhry Pervez Ashraf. Muslim Conference has fielded Sardar Shafique Jaral. A tough contest is expected between the four parties but PPP's Chaudhry Pervez Ashraf is leading on the eve of the elections.

LA-6 Bhimber-II is close to the Line of Control (LoC). Chaudhry Ali Shaan Sohni is contesting on a PTI ticket while previously he would stand as an independent candidate. PML-N has fielded Raja Maqsood while the PPP fielded Chaudhry Idrees. Sohni is leading the polls.

LA-7 Bhimber-III is the constituency where the toughest contest is expected across Azad Jammu and Kashmir polls. Former senior minister Chaudhry Tariq Farooq of the PML-N is facing a challenge from former speaker Chaudhry Awarul Haq who is contesting on PTI ticket.

In Kotli, PPP is dominating the contest as its candidates are leading on at least three out of six seats. PTI is leading on two seats and one may be won by Muslim Conference.

LA-8, Nakyal, Kotli-I, Raj Mehal is a new constituency with Malik Mohammad Nawaz winning it in 2015 from the platform of Muslim Conference and this time, Malik Nawaz is again contesting from Muslim Conference and is expected to face a tough contests against Zafar Iqbal Malik from PTI and Malik Zulfiqar Ali from PML-N. PPP has fielded Aftab Anjum Advocate.

In Raj Mehal, there is a neck-to-neck competition between Malik Nawaz of Muslim Conference and Zafar Iqbal Malik of the PTI but the former has an edge over his opponent.

LA-9 Kotli-II Nakyal is almost on LoC and a former AJK premier AJK Sardar Sikandar Hayat is now contesting from Muslim Conference while earlier the party had awarded the ticket to Sardar Khizer Hayat, a strong candidate due to his backing by the Thakyal family. However the PPP has now awarded a ticket to Sardar Khizer Hayat. A close contest is expected between the two.

PTI has awarded the ticket to a new face, Asif Hayat Kailvi who is not a strong contender and neither is Sardar Munir contesting from PML-N.

LA-10 Kotli City was won by Sardar Farooq Sikandar, the son of Sardar Sikandar Hayat, on a PML-N ticket in 2015 but he is now contesting from the Muslim Conference. He is facing Chaudhry Mohammad Yasin of the PPP and a contest is expected between the two men with the PPP candidate slightly in the lead. LA-11, Kotli-IV Raja Mohammad Naseer is facing a challenge from Chaudhry Akhlaq of PTI and is reportedly in the lead. PPP has fielded Sardar Bashir Pehalwan and Muslim Conference has pitted Raja Iftikhar but with Raja family divided the PTI is expected to benefit.

LA-12 Kotli belongs to Chaudhry Yaseen of the PPP and he is likely to emerge victorious again. He is facing Raja Rayasat of PML-N and Shaukat Fareed of PTI.

At LA-13 Kotli VI, Raja Ayaz Ahmed Khan of PML-N is facing a challenge from PTI's Nisar Ansar Abdali of PTI. PPP has fielded Waleed Inquilabi. PTI is leading the contest but a tough contest is expected between PTI and PPP.

In LA 14 Bagh, former prime minister and head of the Muslim Conference Sardar Ateeq Ahmed Khan will be contesting against PTI's Major Lateef Khaleeq and the former is believed to be on a stronger footing.

In LA 15 Bagh, PTI's Tanveer Ilyas, owner of Centaurus and perhaps the man referred to as Imran Khan's ATM in AJK by Maryam Nawaz, PML-N's Mushtaq Minhas and Muslim Conference's Raja Yaseen will contest the polls. Ilyas is contesting for the first time, and is being named as a possible candidate for prime minister of AJK. JI's Abdul Rashid Turabi has withdrawn his candidacy in favor of Ilyas. In LA 21 Poonch and Sudhnoti, the contest is between PPP's Sardar Muhammad Yaqoob Khan and Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Party's Sardar Hassan Ibrahim. The PTI candidate is believed to be leading.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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