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AJK polls: Elimination of independents augurs well for parliamentary system

July 28, 2021
AJK polls: Elimination of independents augurs well for parliamentary system

ISLAMABAD: The unprecedented defeat of all the 261 independent candidates in Sunday’s general elections to the Azad Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly (AJKLA) shows that voters in the area increasingly prefer political parties to powerful individuals.

IN the past, not only have a good number of independents won seats and played a vital role in the formation of governments in Pakistan’s parliamentary history but a similar trend was also witnessed in the recent Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) elections. Independents managed to get more than their share in successive cabinets in exchange for their precious votes. In the GB polls, as many as seven independents -- a huge number given the 24 directly elected lawmakers -- had succeeded and proved a great help for the PTI to form its government in the region for the first time in its history.

In some cases, the continuation of regimes in power totally hinged on the support of individuals. On many occasions, governments have succumbed to the blackmail of independents by accepting their legitimate or illegal demands. The elimination of the independent aspirant in AJK is a positive development for the strengthening of the parliamentary system as political parties have been favoured and the opportunists have been rejected. In the past, independent winners have always weakened the democratic system.

Given the total number of over 700 candidates in the AJK polls, the presence of 261 independents was a phenomenal number. These candidates were largely those who had been refused tickets by the political parties and had rebelled against them to damage them in the electoral contest. Some of them were, however, perennial independent contestants who believed that their personal appeal in their areas was enough to land them in the AJKLA.

Although this was the first time that none of the independents was successful, some of them did make a considerable impact on the victory or defeat of a few candidates by dividing the overall vote. It was because of this factor and the profusion of competitors that the margin of victory in some constituencies was nominal.

A look at the votes polled by the independent contestants shows that in many cases, they secured less than half a dozen votes while some of them got more than 1,000 ballots in certain constituencies.

Meanwhile, the proscribed Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) met a fate no different from that of the independents. It was unable to win any seat in AJK territory or Pakistan. As far as its candidates were concerned, it had sponsored its cardholders for all the seats in AJK just like the major winning parties. However, its representatives, through their small electoral gains (94,487 votes or 4.94% of the polled ballots), also had their contribution to the rout of some challengers. Although the TLP is outlawed under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of Pakistan, the federal government has not so far approached the Election Commission of Pakistan or the AJK electoral forum to de-list it as a political party and rescind its poll symbol.

The AJK chapter of the Jamaat-e-Islami performed abysmally like the independents and TLP. Although it has never come out with flying colours in the electoral arena in any elections in AJK or Pakistan, it has been bagging a couple of seats in most elections. This time, it did not manage to get even a solitary seat.

The Jamaat has long abandoned the politics of alliance citing its bitter experience of working in multi-party coalitions in the past. However, while remaining a part of alliances, it had mostly been able to secure a seat or two. But its small gains have served as an impediment for it in making too many demands, which have been unacceptable to its senior partners. This time round in AJK, the Jamaat has suffered an ordeal where it was unable to win even a lone seat anywhere. None of its candidates could even stand second in the AJK polls. Despite its dismal showing in the electoral ring, it continues to enjoy good street power that it has, however, not demonstrated in a long time.

The Muslim Conference of Sardar Attique, which had ruled AJK multiple times in the past, was this time reduced to a single-seat party, although it got 153,861 votes or 8.4% of the total share. It had also fielded a large number of candidates in almost every constituency.