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Heavy military presence for Pakistani Kashmir polls

world Updated: Jun 25, 2011 20:32 IST

The disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir under Pakistani control will elect its new government on Sunday when polling for the 41-member legislative assembly begins under tight military watch.

According to official figures, some 12,000 armed forces personnel and 15,000 policemen have been deployed for the voting in the state that is officially called "Azad Jammu Kashmir" or referred to as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in India.

Two brigades of the Pakistan Army have been put on standby duty to help the law enforcement agencies in case of any trouble, reported daily Pakistan Observer, which is also published from Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir.

The government has imposed strict orders prohibiting assembly of five or more people in one group in and around 4,366 polling stations of which 1,000 are deemed sensitive.

Interior minister Rehman Malik and minister for Kashmir affairs Manzoor Wattoo said the heavy security deployment in the state was to ensure "transparent" elections free of any rigging.

But Pakistan's The Nation newspaper, citing political observers, said that "if history is any judge then the government will definitely influence these elections in favour of the men of their choice".

This is because the role of the Pakistan Army and the central government in Pakistani Kashmir elections has always been influential in electing the prime minister for the state.

Even former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif has pledged to rid Pakistani Kashmiri of "military democracy" if his Pakistan Muslim League comes to power in the state.

There are over three million voters eligible to elect 29 representatives from as many constituencies in the state and 12 for the seats reserved for Kashmiri refugees living in different parts of Pakistan.

Of these 12 seats, nine are in Punjab, two in Sindh and one in the North West Frontier Province -- now named Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The main contest will be between Pakistan People's Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference, the ruling party in the state.

There is only one woman candidate among the over 421 contestants in the fray that includes independents and representatives of 22 political parties.

The woman candidate is Naureen Arif, contesting from LA-24 Muzaffarabad-1 on Pakistan Muslim League-N ticket.

She was elected as an independent in the outgoing assembly in 2006 and became the first woman elected to the house.

Daily Express Tribune, casting "doubts" on the authenticity of electoral rolls, said the percentage of women is far lower in electoral rolls than the population and demographic statistics show.

Population census figures show that the ratio of women is more than men. But there are only 1.2 million registered women voters - which is only 40 percent of the total eligible voters.

"People mostly avoid registering their women family members as voters," Express Tribune quoted an unnamed senior election official as saying.