Amid the pandemic crisis, the political temperature in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) is on rising as the forthcoming 11th general elections for Legislative Assembly (AJKLA) schedule on 25th July over 33 AJKLA seats inside Azad Kashmir and 12 refugee’s seats settled in major cities of Pakistan. All the political parties and independent candidates are feverishly engaged in campaigns to galvanize political support in their favor, nevertheless, three major parties -The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) are the key contenders in this highly charge electoral contest in which a 3.2 million registered voters will exercise their right of franchise.
Firstly, by tradition, the party ruling in Islamabad grabs a majority of seats in Azad Kashmir elections, yet it’s hard to predict the rise to power with the clear majority of any political party but it is evident that with the emergence of PTI as another strong contending actor in ruling Muzaffarabad has intensified political gimmicks whilst it also enhanced the role of electables and non-partisan, splinters, pressure groups in electoral proceedings.
Secondly, a significant aspect is delimitations of Legislative Assembly seats after the inclusion of four new constituencies raising the strength to 45 directly elected members for coming general elections. Two new constituencies created for the Muzaffarabad division while one each for Mirpur and Poonch, coupled with 12 refugee’s seats may prove X-factor in determining the political power in Muzaffarabad.
Thirdly, notwithstanding the conventional approaches, social media has become a powerful medium for political campaigns in AJK elections to strategize their communication plans leading to the creation of shareable content that candidates and supporters can use to increase awareness, engage the public, and appeal for votes. Paired with traditional political analytics like party affiliation and exit polls, social media tools are effectively utilized in predicting voter behavior. Likewise, the majority of nominated candidates vow usage of modern technology in electoral campaigns, in particular Constituency Management System (CMS) for preparation for the Election Day management in identifying voters, contacting them for polling, ensuring required vote mobilization, and cast for candidate’s winning results from each polling stations.
Fourthly, political mileage vis-à-vis Kashmir Issue policy has taken the center stage in the electoral campaigns by the political leadership of mainstream parties. The public acceptance of such narratives may seem like a wild goose chase however on a larger canvas it has further exposed the subtle policy at the state level through blame game politics.
Fifthly, the contemporary political trends suggest that the rise of the far rightest wing party to rule in Muzaffarabad is seemingly impossible despite a favorable social landscape of AJK that is more accommodating to right-wing faction/ideologies in setting the ethnic-cultural normative configurations.
Sixthly, there is the drastic resurgence of ethnic and caste-based political affiliations. Over the years the feudalistic fabric gradually fragmented in AJK, notwithstanding the Ideological preferences paradoxically in upcoming elections cast-based voting might play a key role in overall results.
Seventhly, unlike GB elections independently contesting candidates may not attain that much success in the AJK elections. Their role in power transition will remain minimal but to an extent, it would impact the constituency architecture eventually creating an impact on the final electoral results.
Eighthly, one of the dismaying factors is marginal women engagement in the political power-sharing of Azad Kashmir. There are 1.29 million registered women voters but hardly a few women candidates able to attain party tickets for the forthcoming elections. Thus, in a nascent democratic structure, the women marginalization would further create societal disparity.
Ninthly, the general elections of AJK have attained more significance compared with previous ones as top-notch leadership of the political parties have been actively engaged in elections campaigns. To an extent, the results of those elections would also impact the power corridors of Islamabad.
Tenthly, the youth seems highly charged vow to change the conventional political trends. It is noticeable that this election would set a benchmark of youth political engagement.,
Eleventhly ,no matter which party makes inroads to the political powerhouse of Muzaffarabad, the post-electoral trends of the blame game, mandate theft and rigging accusations would be sufficed as a face saving shield.
To conclude, AJK elections would be a mirror of nascent democratic electoral practices. Keeping the pessimistic assertions aside, this democratic process of power transition must continue as it provides common masses a chance to undertake their civic obligations and responsibilities, thereby strengthening the society as a whole.
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