ISLAMABAD: Upsets are not being ruled out in Sunday’s 11th general elections to the Azad Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly (AJKLA), with close fights expected in at least a dozen constituencies where prime ministerial candidates are trying their luck.
Simultaneously, the contests for 12 seats of Kashmiri refugees settled in Pakistan evoke immense interest and attention as any political party winning in most of these constituencies will land in a position to clinch the top executive slot in AJK. Only a few thousand votes would suffice to bag a seat. Traditionally, the provincial governments have a lot of influence in such elections.
One of the most engaging electoral contests will be in Mirpur where the president of the AJK chapter of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Barrister Sultan Mehmood Chaudhry is in the race. His close aides say he has been assured by the party bosses that he would be the prime minister should the PTI win. He has multiple victories to his credit in this constituency and had been the prime minister when he belonged to the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
Once again, he faces his powerful rival, Chaudhry Saeed of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), who had routed him in the 2016 general elections. However, Chaudhry Saeed was later disqualified, and Sultan Mehmood had defeated his brother in the by-election held to fill this seat.
The nominees of the PPP, Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and Jamaat-e-Islami are also vying for this seat apart from 11 independent candidates.
Challenging Sultan Mehmood in his bid to become the prime minister is a new entrant in the PTI, the billionaire real estate tycoon, Sardar Tanvir Ilyas, who owns a famous multi-storey residential and shopping complex in the federal capital.
He is fighting the election for the first time in a Bagh constituency. He actually belongs to Rawalakot but opted for the Bagh seat as a large number of members of his caste live there.
Tanvir Ilyas tried to brighten his prospects by persuading former chief of the AJK branch of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Abdul Rasheed Turabi, to withdraw in his favour, a move that quickly earned Turabi expulsion from the party. Without naming Tanvir Ilyas, PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz has referred to him more than once in her campaign speeches, accusing him of being another ATM of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Journalist-turned-politician Mushtaq Minhas, who was minister in the outgoing AJK cabinet, is the main challenger standing against Tanvir Ilyas. He had successfully contested the elections for the first time in 2016 and became a minister. Besides, ticket holders of the PPP (Sardar Ziaul Qamar) and TLP (Masood Hayat) are also fighting for this seat besides 12 independent contestants.
Yet another important scramble is likely on the two seats of Muzaffarabad that incumbent AJK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider is vying for. In one constituency, where 10 candidates are in the running, he is confronted by PTI’s Zeeshan Haider, PPP’s Ashfaq Zafar, TLP’s Ashfaq Hashmi, Sardar Nadeem Tariq Niaz of the All J&K Muslim Conference (AJ&KMC) besides an independent.
For the second Muzaffarabad seat, Farooq Haider faces Deewan Ali Chughtai of the PTI; Muhammad Javed of the PPP; Syed Ali Imadul Islam of the Jamaat-e-Islami; Abdul Razzaq of the TLP and Liaqat Ali Awan of the AJ&KMC.
Another Bagh constituency will see a close contest where former AJK prime minister and AJ&KMC chief Sardar Attique is contesting. Although his party is going to ally with the PTI, the latter has fielded its candidate against him. The PML-N has put up Raja Faisal Azad; the PTI Muhammad Latif Khalique; the PPP Khawar Khan and TLP Usman Abbasi. There are also 10 independents in the field. Without naming Sardar Attique, Maryam Nawaz has been criticising him during her campaign speeches.
Former AJK President Sardar Yaqoob is attempting to get a Poonch seat as the PPP ticket holder. Nayyar Ayoub represents the PTI; Tahir Anwar the PML-N and Muhammad Abid Hussain Khan the TLP. There are six independents contesting as well.
The leader of the opposition in the AJKLA, Muhammad Yasin Chaudhry, belonging to the PPP, is trying to win a Kotli seat. Among others, he has been challenged by Muhammad Farooq Khan, son of former AJK Prime Minister/President Sardar Sikandar Hayat as the AJ&KMC nominee. The PTI has fielded Malik Muhammad Yousaf while PML-N has sponsored Zubair Iqbal Kayani. Tasneem Azeem represents the TLP and there are 17 independents in the fray.
Of the 53-member AJKLA, 45 seats -- 33 in AJK territory and 12 for the refugees living in Pakistan -- will be directly contested. Those elected will choose eight legislators for special seats. Any contesting party bagging or having the support of the 23 directly fought seats, including the help of its present or future ally, will get its nominee elected as the prime minister.
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