PoJK local body election is a political gimmick (Opinion)

The first phase of local body election in Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK) was completed on November 27 in Muzaffarabad Division. According to 99 per cent results that were announced on November 29, the sitting government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) secured victory on 197 seats whereas Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) secured victory on 194 and 127 seats, respectively.

The second phase of the aforementioned local body election will be held on December 3, in Poonch division and the final phase will commence on December 8 in Mirpur division.

Elections for public office in PoJK have always been a centre of controversy. In order to qualify for becoming a candidate for the legislate Assembly or a local body one is forced to sign a confessional oath.

This oath demands of the candidate to support the accession of PoJK to Pakistan, declare that he is a Muslim and that he believes in the Ideology of Pakistan which means believing in the poisonous two-nation theory of Muhammed Ali Jinnah, the so-called founder of Pakistan. Therefore, such elections are not inclusive as they bar non-Muslims to participate in direct elections.

The local body election in PoJK are being held after 31 years. The question is whether such an exercise would be able to deliver at grass root level. Well, I don’t think so.

Let us examine the PoJK budget for fiscal year 2022/23 that was passed on June 25, this year. Its total volume was Rs 163.7 billion. Pakistan normally contributes 3.64 per cent of its federal tax revenue collection for development projects in PoJK. But this time it was cut down and instead of Rs 40 billion only Rs 28.5 billion was given as a handout.

Hence, PoJK government is already suffering a short fall of Rs 13.5 billion to cover ongoing development project. One of the reasons the members of the PoJK legislative assembly were opposed to local body election over three decades was because each member was allocated a certain amount of development funds. This was then spent by the member at his or her discretion making enough room for corruption.

However, since there is already a huge cut in development funds for ongoing projects, where is the PoJK government going to find money to allocate to the newly elected local representatives?

The government of PoJK is starved of cash already and the reason of not being able to hold local bodies election on the same day across PoJK is testimony to that. Right up to the final days of the election PoJK government was expecting Pakistan to send an extra 13,000 security personals to be deployed across sensitive polling stations.

But Pakistan has her own political problems to deal with. Imran Khan’s successful campaign to destablilise the sitting government, the ongoing insurgency in Balochistan and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan attacks of Pakistan security forces in the province of Khyber Paktunkhwa have bogged down Pakistani security and military forces.

It was after the Pakistan government refused to send security personal and lack of enough local police that PoJK government decided to hold its local body elections in phases.

If there are insufficient funds for development projects and the PoJK government is starved of cash, then the question arises where is the PoJK government going to find cash to pay the newly elected or to be elected councilors to carry out development in their constituencies?

How are these elections going to help mend a broken social infrastructure like fixing broken road, building local health facilities, schools excreta and how are they going to address the electricity, water and food scarcity issues?

In the final analysis, the local body elections held in PoJK are a political stunt. It is an attempt to divert the attention of my rebellious people in PoJK who have been protesting for more than six months against lack of basic enmities.

The fact of the matter is that the people of PoJK have no freedom to choose a better future for themselves while they remain under the illegal occupation of Pakistan and its military. Elections, whether for the legislative assembly or local bodies are nothing but a gimmick. And sooner than later this gimmick will have to confront the reality of actuality.

(Dr Amjad Ayub Mirza is an author and a human rights activist from Mirpur in PoJK. He currently lives in exile in the UK.)

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