Kashmiris will exercise their right to franchise on Thursday to elect members for the AJK Legislative Assembly, which will be the ninth since the parliamentary form of government was introduced in Azad Jammu and Kashmir in 1975.
While the region is spread over 14,245 square kilo meters, the polling process is not restricted to this area. Instead, it stretches to entire Pakistan because members for 12 out of the 41 directly elected seats are elected by 438,884 voters living in various parts of the country.
Twenty-six political parties and 423 candidates are in the fray but the actual contest is between the nominees of the AJK chapters of three mainstream Pakistani political parties — Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League-N and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.Seats division in AJK.
The PPP in AJK was launched by Z.A. Bhutto in 1973 and until December 2010 it faced Muslim Conference (MC) as its arch-opponent. But the situation changed in 2010 when Nawaz Sharif launched the PML-N in the region.
The 2011 polls were a neck-and-neck fight between the PPP and the PML-N though the MC was also in the field. As AJK rarely goes against the centre, the PPP secured smooth victory and formed its government. The PML-N also did well by winning 10 seats. The MC, which had ruled for a long time, was reduced to four seats.
However, since Imran Khan’s PTI made a foray into AJK’s political competition, the interest and activity has moved beyond AJK’s boundaries.
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PML-N has fielded candidates in 38 constituencies and offered two seats in Rawalakot district to the Jammu Kashmir Peoples Party (JKPP), which has sizeable support in the Sudhan-dominant belts of Rawalakot and Sudhnoti districts. One constituency of Kashmiri refugees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has been given by the PML-N to the Jamaat-i-Islami.