Kashmir votes in first local government elections in over three decades

Jammu & Kashmir POK - Pakistan Occupied Kashmir

MUZAFFARABAD: The people of Muzaffarabad Division are voting in an election for local bodies pitting the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) — both members of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) coalition government in Islamabad — against Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in the first leg of the historic poll in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

The election across the mountainous region, which comes after a gap of at least 31 years and on the order of the Supreme Court, is being conducted in three phases, partly because the federal government was unable to perform its job to supply additional security personnel.

The second and third phases of the election will be conducted in the Poonch and Mirpur administrative divisions on December 3 and 8, respectively.

Polling began in Muzaffarabad, Neelum, and Jhelum Valley — the three districts of the Muzaffarabad Division — at 8:00 am and is expected to continue until 5:00 pm without any pause, according to a spokesperson for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

The spokesperson said 4,500 personnel of the Azad Kashmir police are deployed across the division to protect the polling process. A unit of Quick Response Force (QRF) comprising 500 police will also remain on alert at the backend to deal with any emergency situation.

A total of 2,716 candidates, including 31 women, are contesting the first leg of the elections, the tribunal’s secretary said. At least 19 candidates in the division have already returned unopposed.

At 575, the party of former prime minister Imran Khan, whose popularity since being ousted from office in April has gone through the roof, has fielded the most candidates; the PPP awarded 545 tickets; and the PML-N issued tickets to 465 people. Some 900 independent candidates are also in the run, according to the election commission.

The number of eligible-voting population in the division stands at 695,049 — 411,072 in Muzaffarabad, 154,832 in Jhelum Valley, and 129,145 voters in the Neelum Valley — who will elect 595 councillors.

1,323 stations and 1,884 booths have been set up across the division, where 6,966 officials, including presiding officers and polling officers, are performing duties.__Pakistan Today