Monday February 06, 2023

AJK poll results: PTI thrilled, PPP satisfied, PML-N shocked

July 30, 2021
AJK poll results: PTI thrilled, PPP satisfied, PML-N shocked

ISLAMABAD: The outcome of the Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) elections has elated the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), satisfied the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and disheartened the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

The reasons for these reactions are more than obvious. The PML-N had not expected this kind of a poor showing. It had imagined a result that would be like that of the multiple recent by-elections (except of course Wednesday’s by-poll in Sialkot) held in Pakistan.

There is one point that the PTI and opposition parties have usually missed out on while offering their analyses on the poll results: there is not a single instance when a party in power at the federal level has lost the AJK elections.

Even a party that barely existed in AJK before the electoral exercise won the polls merely because it was in power in Pakistan. The PTI is delighted that it has gained ground even in AJK-- a territory where it has had no say in the past -- and secured a big majority that has enabled it to form its government without the need to find coalition partners.

This is only the second general election the party has contested; in the 2016 polls, it had bagged only two seats. PTI’s first-ever victory in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) last year and in AJK now has buoyed its confidence. It believes that having its government in AJK after GB is a huge achievement in a short span of time. What impact its hold in these two regions will have on the real battleground, Pakistan, is anybody’s guess.

AJK and GB have a limited number of votes, just a few millions, compared to Pakistan. Additionally, the two regions are totally dependent on the federal government as far as funding and central control over top bureaucratic positions is concerned. This clout plays a major role in producing victory in these areas for the party ruling the federation.

For many years, the PPP has been under pressure because of its overall national electoral standing.Its performance in the recent by-elections held in Punjab reinforced the overall perception that the party had lost its former glory everywhere except in Sindh. It was surprised and dispirited by the result of the GB elections, specifically considering the animated poll campaign run by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who had anticipated a much better outcome.

The PPP is therefore quite pleased about the AJK results as it will become the largest opposition party in the State Legislative Assembly (LA), standing second after the PTI. Another reason for its growing contentment is that it has far surpassed its main rival in the opposition ranks, the PMLN, in terms of the number of AJKLA seats. It is difficult to weigh the influence of Bilawal’s tirades against the PMLN in his election campaign on the poll result in his favour.

While the PTI faced the PMLN and PPP in the elections, the two major opposition parties were pitched against the ruling party as well as against each other. The result might have been very different had the PMLN and PPP sponsored joint candidates. But as always, this always seemed a remote possibility. The popular votes of the two parties far exceed the ballots polled by the PTI.

Meanwhile, the PMLN is stunned because it believes that the final electoral outcome does not reflect the size of people’s participation in the campaign rallies addressed by its vice president Maryam Nawaz. Even the party’s detractors grudgingly agree that she attracted massive crowds even in areas with a sparse population spread over far-flung mountainous regions.

Like the GB poll campaign, Maryam Nawaz alone ran the electioneering in AJK. PMLN President Shehbaz Sharif stayed away from the elections and did not hold even a single rally. Prime Minister Imran Khan and Bilawal addressed far fewer election meetings in AJK than Maryam.

Another highlight of the electoral process is that the profusion of candidates in all the constituencies in the AJK territory played a big part in whittling down any PMLN gains. Furthermore, the PMLN did not run an effective campaign for the seats of the Kashmiri refugees settled in Pakistan, particularly those located in Punjab. Maryam Nawaz held just one public meeting in Sialkot at the last minute.