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Kashmir: The Mock Election

By Zafar Iqbal

19 June, 2011
Countercurrents.org

The democracy can be a democratically agreed form of tyranny and oppression. Robert Young was true in his depiction of such societies where the minority has no legitimate political means of resistance against the tyranny of the majority. An awful demonstration of such political autocracy could be seen in Pakistan administrated part of Kashmir, where three million citizens of the one half of the divided state are going to exercise a democratic right of electing their representatives in the Legislative Assembly in a few weeks. In reality, this political process is no more than a tug-of-war between local influential feudal tribes and aristocratic family structures in the pretence of democracy to retain their authority and control over the resources of the land.

Furthermore, there are a number of constitutional, administrative and executive regulations and conditions that question the legitimacy of such electoral process from human rights perspective. The Constitution of the region which governs the electoral process is itself in contradiction to democratic and parliamentary norms because, according to its critics, it lacks the authenticity and legitimacy because of its controversial promulgation.

The critics of this constitution opine that this was conceived by a few un-elected people, and was not approved by a lawful democratic elected institute. Article 7(2) of this constitution says “no person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to the ideology of the State's accession to Pakistan.” This clause mercilessly suffocates the freedom of expression and restricts the liberty of association, which are basic human rights and considered as injections of democracy.

Majority political parties taking part in mock election never bothered to have any elections within their own ranks. Despite educating the public opinion through any manifesto or election program, they rely on filthy accusations over their rivals and immoral tactics to bag people’s sympathies and grab the power. Ironically, in more than one dozen constituencies either sons or fathers are contesting in election or nominees of three major political parties belong to same family, perhaps unchallengeable strongholds for powerless locals.

The decisive role of government of Pakistan through Ministry of Kashmir affairs and Jammu and Kashmir Council and other state organs, has become a straightforward and inevitable practice of power game in Pakistan part of Kashmir since the independence in 1947. Ideologically pro-military and Islamabad party of the region, Muslim Conference continued to play a key role in the configuration of government structure through its Working Party by nominating the president of the area. In other words, a political entity, whom former head Choudhary Ghulam Abbas, was amongst the harsh opponents of democratization, continue to decide the destiny of masses without any democratic endorsement till many years.

The citizens of state of Azad Jammu and Kashmir had to wait for almost four decades to exercise their right of vote when in 1960 first election of ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir State Council’ were held on its 24 seats in the absence of any constitutional framework. And in 1974, the system of adult franchise was adopted and a democratic setup was introduced through Azad Jammu and Kashmir Interim Act, 1970, however, after four years the Interim Act, shifted the balance of power from locals to the government of Pakistan, which can dissolve the local assembly through its unchallengeable legal powers. Such authoritarian and discriminatory measures have not only cultivated grievances among local people , but also badly hindered the pace of development due to lack of representation of AJK region in mainstream resource distribution mechanisms of Pakistan governance like the NFC award, IRSA, federal cabinet and so on.

Now as the change is due constitutionally in AJK, the federal government is all set to apply its tested manoeuvres to install a mock democratic setup in Muzaffarabad. The PPP led-government of Pakistan has allegedly distributed Rs. 50 lacs each among its candidates in order to ensure their victory in the election by rewarding the voters. The electoral lists, which are considered the essence for a just and impartial election, have been highly criticised for being bogus and packed with gross errors.

Moreover, the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), which sucked mercilessly 50 billion rupees funded by the international community for the rehabilitation of the damaged infrastructure of quake-hit region of Kashmir, is being generously distributed among party supporters for political gains. The chairperson of Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal (PBM), a charitable body of the government of Pakistan, has also campaigning in public meetings of candidates backed by the federal government.

Furthermore, making the mockery of election rules, the incumbent prime minster, who is also a candidate in coming election, is running his election drive by travelling on helicopter fuelled by the tax payers’ money. Local press is full with the news and images of electricity poles, water pipes and other developmental incentives confiscated from candidates of the ruling Muslim Conference.

No doubt, election is lifeline of democracy, a futile exercise of election may not bring any democratic change in a society overburdened with a multitude of issues. In the absence of a fair, impartial and just electoral mechanism in this region sustainable peace and democracy seems to be a distant dream.

(The writer is a freelance journalist and commentator from Pakistan Administrated Kashmir. He could be accessed at: zafarjournalist@gmail.com )

 



 


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