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A tale of two elections

A tale of two elections

November has witnessed elections in two different parts of the former Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). On November 15, elections were held in Pakistani occupied Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) where votes were cast to elect a puppet legislative assembly. And, on November 28 Direct Development Council (DDC) elections were held in the Indian Union Territory of J&K for the first time. DDC elections were held in order to elect representatives who would be in charge of development projects in their respective districts.

GB elections were more of a ‘make-PTI-win’ by hook or crook exercise. PTI is the acronym for Prime Minister Imran Khan's party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. Originally the elections were scheduled to be held in August. However, excuses were made regarding incomplete voters list and were postponed for three months. Critics of Imran Khan are of the view that this was a manoeuvre to let winter set in so that far flung regions in the mountainous region would be blocked due to snow fall thus making it impossible for voters to get to the far and few polling stations.

The DDC elections in J&K were held for the first time in the history of the Union Territory. They are designed to devolve power and to transfer control of local development from a centralised UT government right down to the district level. On the contrary, GB elections were a power grab scam which enabled the federal government in Pakistan to ‘select' a toothless rubber stamp legislative assembly.

On election day, ballot boxes were stolen and ‘unknown’ gunmen armed with guns attacked more than one polling station in GB and allegedly replaced numerous ballot boxes with those which had already been filled with votes to make ‘selected’ PTI candidates win. At least 1,700 postal votes were discovered in Astore which had mysteriously been stamped before the election date.

Despite a vigorous election campaign by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Bilawal Zardari Bhutto and Maryam Nawaz of Pakistan Muslim League N (PML-N) drawing the largest crowds at her public meetings in Gilgit and Skardu, they only managed to bag four and two seats respectively. On the other hand, the PTI bagged eight.

It has been the norm in previous GB elections held in 2009 and 2013 that the party which formed government in Pakistan would win in GB as well. However, this time round the poor performance of the Imran Khan government in Pakistan, the lack of grassroots party organisation in GB, the resentment against the declaration of turning GB into Pakistan’s fifth province and the resonance of the anti-military establishment public discontent displayed at several rallies held across the country under the banner of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) were decisive elements that everyone had realised would grossly dent PTI popularity, if any, in GB, and that the PTI would lose miserably. However, today we have a PTI government in GB. This can only happen in Pakistan where the invisible hand of Pakistani military establishment works in mysterious ways.

But the people of GB have rejected the tampered election results and taken to the streets. Violent protests set in across the land and in Gilgit and Skardu they continued for over a week. All major opposition parties have refused to accept the election results.

The DDC elections held on November 28 were held undisputed. Even the Gupkar gang did not raise a finger to challenge the transparency of the voting process. Electors in the valley came out in their droves to vote. A 120-year-old woman was carried on the back of her male great grandchild to the polling station. Despite bone chilling cold and the fear of terrorist attempts to disrupt the polling, people came out and voted.

A glance at the percentage of votes might give us a better understanding of how seriously people took the DDC elections. In an interview with this scribe, Sajid Yousaf Shah – CEO of <em>The Real Kashmir News,</em> claimed that more people turned up at the polling stations in South Kashmir than North Kashmir. This, he claimed, was of great significance since most of the violence and terrorism was previously attributed to the Southern part of the valley.

Perilously notorious trouble spots such as Kupwara, Shopian, Doda, Kathua and Samba to name a few, witnessed a turn out of 50.74 per cent, 42.58 per cent, 64.49 per cent, 62.82 per cent, and 68.61 per cent, respectively. The total overall turnout was recorded at 51.76 per cent.

No untoward incident was reported during the polling. This shows the resilience of the people of Kashmir who have been held hostages for seven decades by those who now comprise the Gupkar gang.

The politics of communal hate and insecurity are over or so it seems at least for now. The fact that people turn up at the polling stations in J&amp;K is testimony of approval of the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A.

The second phase of the DDC elections will be held soon. This will include areas that were left out at the first phase. Unlike GB where elections have brought more repression of the colonial occupier, the DDC elections are to prove the steam engine for progress and prosperity.

The tale of two elections held in the same territory have brought about two opposing outcomes. While DDC elections in J&amp;K will help the union territory to takes long strides towards integrating its economic and political soul with the living body of Hindustan, in GB the struggle to free our people from the clutches of jihadist oppression and colonial slavery continues.

<em>(Dr Amjad Ayub Mirza is an author and human rights activist from Mirpur in Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK). He currently lives in exile in the UK.)</em>.