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Ignoring NCOC’s recommendation: AJK going ahead with holding elections before July 29

June 03, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Azad Jammu and Kashmir Election Commission (AJKEC) is going to issue the poll schedule for general elections to the AJK Legislative Assembly within a week.

“The final decision will be taken by the AJK Election Commissioner and the members of the AJKEC,” a senior AJKEC official told The News from Muzaffarabad. He wished not to be named.

He said the AJKEC has not so far received any letter from the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) in which it has reportedly recommended the postponement of elections for two months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “I have unofficially got a copy from someone to read. But we can’t give our formal response unless we formally receive the communication.”

The official said that under Article 22 of the AJK Constitution, the general elections have to be held before July 29 this year. “There is no constitutional provision for the deferral of the polls. Any such move will be unconstitutional.”

Article 22(4) says a general election to the legislative assembly shall be held within a period of 60 days immediately preceding the day on which its term is due to expire unless it has been dissolved earlier, and the electoral result will be declared not later than 14 days after that day.

The incumbent AJK Prime Minister, Raja Farooq Haider, who belongs to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), was administered oath of office on July 31, 2016 after his party swept the parliamentary polls. Polling will be held in AJK and for Kashmiri refugee seats in different areas of Pakistan, including Sialkot, Rawalpindi, Karachi and others.

The letter issued after the May 28 NCOC meeting stated that as regards AJK, approximately 0.175 million people had been vaccinated until May 28 and with the enhanced vaccination rate, about one million people are likely to be inoculated by the end of September.

Elections involve large social/political gatherings and massive interaction at the grassroots level with the wider potential for increased infectivity/disease spread, the letter said. Since AJK has already experienced high positivity in the recent past, the forthcoming elections in the month of July may act as a super spreader for the coronavirus.

The letter said taking account of the current disease situation in Pakistan and the region and the ongoing vaccination drive, the NCOC suggests the postponement of the forthcoming general elections for two months to afford sufficient time to vaccinate the eligible population of AJK.

The letter said with the stringent implementation of NPIs [non-pharmaceutical interventions] of the federating units, so far the ongoing third wave has been well managed. While due emphasis on NPIs will continue, the NCOC’s current strategy is to undertake a massive vaccination drive throughout Pakistan.

Some time ago, the NCOC had also recommended that a number of by-elections scheduled to be held in Pakistan should be put off due to the spread of the coronavirus. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had accepted the proposal and deferred the polling. However, after the federal government and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) realised that elections to half of the Senate were impending and they needed every vote for their candidates in the upper house, they had called to fill the vacant seats in the federal and provincial assemblies. As a result, the ECP had rescinded its earlier order of deferring the electoral exercise.

Meanwhile, two major opposition parties – the PML-N and PPP – have rejected the NCOC proposal for delaying the general elections. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has also stated that it is ready for the contest.

By and large, the AJKEC is armed with similar powers that are vested in the ECP. The AJK Constitution says it is its duty to organize and conduct the election for the office of the president, the legislative assembly, the Kashmir Council and local bodies and to make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that the process is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with the law. It will have such powers and perform such functions as are conferred on it under the Constitution and any Act of the legislative assembly. It will be the duty of all executive authorities in the state to assist the AJKEC in the discharge of its functions.

The AJKEC and its members cannot be removed from their office except in the manner prescribed in Article 42-E [AJK supreme judicial council], which is akin to Article 209 of the Pakistan Constitution relating to the removal of superior court judges.

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