Reports of sporadic violence during elections to the assembly on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) on Thursday prompted the deployment of troops in sensitive areas.
The opposition Pakistan People’s Party won the last polls in 2011 and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N party has launched a concerted bid to come to power in the region.
More than 17,000 Pakistan Army troops were deployed for the peaceful conduct of the elections.
A total of 423 candidates from 44 political parties are running for 41 directly contested seats in the 49-member legislative assembly. The contestants include four former “prime ministers” of the region and more than a dozen ministers. More than 2.67 million are registered to vote, including 1.48 million men and 1.19 million women.
Twelve of the 41 seats are reserved for refugees from Jammu and Kashmir living in Pakistan. There are two seats each in Karachi and Rawalpindi, and one each in Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Narowal, Gujrat and Multan and 438,884 registered voters will elect representatives on these seats.
The PML-N, which formed its PoK chapter in 2011, is considered a new entrant in the region’s politics. However, it is increasingly important for the party to win the vote because it would set the tone for its future in the region.
Traditionally, the party that rules in Islamabad has won the PoK elections. Given that the PML-N is in power at the centre, it has an edge over its rivals.
However, Prime Minister Sharif’s absence from the campaigning because of his ailment gave opposition leaders, including Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and PPP’s Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, an opportunity to exploit the situation.
Bilawal, the PPP chairman, has warned his party will launch street protests if the PML-N tries to rig the polls. “If the PML-N riggs the elections or resorts to violence, then people would forget the 2014 dharna,” Bilawal told a news conference in Islamabad on Tuesday, referring to a prolonged protest against the PML-N two years ago.
Besides the PML-N and PPP, the other parties in the fray are Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Muslim Conference, Jamaat-e-Islami, and Muttahida Qaumi Movement.