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ISLAMABAD: Election Commission of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) is unlikely to proceed against Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan Ali Amin Gandapur for allegedly violating the EC AJK’s code of conduct and visiting the constituencies where general elections were held, on the grounds that it may open a new ‘Pandora’s box’ regarding involvement of government officials in elections.

Under electoral laws, the EC can take action against any person elected to Legislative Assembly that may lead to his/her disqualification from the membership of AJK’s lower house of Parliament if it is proved that government officials in AJK or Pakistan directly supported him/her with finances/influence to get elected as lawmaker.

“But these powers have hardly been practiced in AJK. There are three separate ECs - Pakistan, AJK and GB, and electoral laws of all these three ECs bar the involvement of government officials in electoral process in any constituency where election schedule is announced. But it is very difficult to determine if any government official used his/her influence in favour of an electoral candidate,” an official of AJK EC told Business Recorder, on the strict condition of anonymity.

Regarding Gandapur’s case, he added, “The minister visited so many constituencies in AJK. He travelled almost across the AJK for PTI election campaign. How can you expect the EC to disqualify all 26 PTI candidates elected to AJK Legislative Assembly?” he queried.

When contacted, AJK EC, in its official version given to Business Recorder, stated, “The matter regarding the federal minister for Kashmir affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan came to the notice of the Election Commission of AJK. Appropriate action was taken and minister was barred from participating in the election campaigns of candidates contesting general polls and was directed to leave the AJK.”

The AJK EC said the district returning officer in Mirpur was directed to investigate a video footage in which a minister (Gandapur) was allegedly seen distributing money in connection with AJK general polls and to register a case against the minister if his involvement was ascertained.

“The matter is still under review,” the EC said.

On the other hand, mainstream opposition parties slammed AJK EC for acting ‘too late’ on their complaints against Gandapur.

“The AJK EC proved toothless in ensuring free and fair elections,” senior Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) leader Rana Sanaullah told Business Recorder.

He said the AJK EC had directed electoral authorities in Mirpur to register a case against Gandapur if he was found guilty of offering a bribe to influence voters. “But no case has been registered and the way EC is dealing with the matter clearly shows that the issue would be hushed up,” he said.

Even if a case is registered against Gandapur, nothing much can be done against him since he is not a member of AJK Parliament and his case does not directly fall in the purview of AJK EC, a government official told Business Recorder.

Recently, Prime Minister Imran Khan came under criticism for visiting AJK ahead of general polls. However, government officials say this practice is not new and Pakistan’s premiers in the past also visited AJK in connection with general polls in the valley.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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