It is finally the moment of truth. Azad Kashmir election on July 25 is really the litmus test for PTI. Political positioning and repositioning aside, everything indicates that this election will be a harbinger of the Pakistan general election in 2023.
Usually, the Azad Kashmir election follows a simple pattern. The people vote in overwhelming numbers for the party incumbent in Islamabad mainly for survival instincts and to get maximum Federal Government support for developmental projects and secondly the party in power in Islamabad uses the connections to influence the voter in Azad Kashmir. But looking at PTI & its supervised election history, this time this will not be the pattern.
A blip in Daska, notwithstanding PTI, has shown a tendency to go for fair elections resultantly losing some of the bye-election that PMLN or PPP would have never lost. So, the perception is that elections will be reasonably fair with local level manipulations and no interference by the Federal Government.
Contradicting claims over Kashmir
The narrative from the opposition is that PTI sold Kashmir, did not defend it in world forums, they are incompetent, they have no control over inflation, and as the PMLN election campaigning proclaimed, they are corrupt. PPP, though shrinking in size from a Federal Party to a party limited in Sindh is also following the same campaign pattern with some claims to have served Kashmir’s interest in the past.
However, the PTI is claiming that they have done the maximum for Kashmir and has derived international recognition for it in world forums by quoting Imran Khan’s speech in the United Nations General Assembly, highlighting the recent economic growths, decrying the condition of the economy when they came into power, and of course denying that they are corrupt.
Now over a period of the next two weeks, the onus of responsibility is on the Kashmiri people. They have to listen to the contradicting claims of all the political leaders, review the past and judge it accordingly.
The local parties like Muslim Conference or Azad Kashmir Peoples party will be there but the major share will be distributed to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Pakistan Muslim League, and Pakistan Peoples Party.
The area of support of the local political parties has shrunk over the years and they are no longer a major player.
Good move bye election Commission of AJK to safeguard the political rights of people of Kashmir
When election Commission of AJK will inforse code of conduct and when take action https://t.co/V2Mnbry5GZ
— Zulqurnain Asghar (@zulqurnainasgar) July 14, 2021
Kashmir bye-elections: A dress rehearsal for 2023?
This scenario is the same as to what will be played out in 2023. Pakistan is as much concerned with the Kashmir question as the people of Azad Kashmir are and it will be more or less the same strength factor in getting votes. Incompetence, inflation, and corruption will definitely be on voters’ minds as well.
There is a geographical difference as well. Sindh still retains some influence of Bhutto in rural areas where these questions might become rhetorical with emotional attachment to Bhutto. Punjab has the King’s party mentality which swings their support, which again, might be independent of these questions. Baluchistan has its own dynamics and Khyber Pakhtunkhawa will have its own permutations and combinations.
So when the factors are the same, the issues are the same, the parties more or less are the same, we can safely assume that this might be a dress rehearsal for the 2023 election.
While bye-election sometimes is quoted as an indicator but bye-election with the tendency of re-electing the party holding the seat and flipping the seat being few and far between cannot be taken as a valid indicator. This time the sample size is big enough to be acceptable even in statistical terms as a fair indicator of things to come.
The litmus test
This time the AJK election has 49 seats with five reserved to be added later. It’s not to say that the election result in AJK will be replicated in 2023 but what it is going to do is give a clear indication of whose narrative is being accepted. From 2018 onwards we have been hearing ad nauseam from PTI about the opposition being corrupt and praises for the way PTI handled the Kashmir Issue by countering Modi.
On the other hand, the opposition has been drumming the failure of PTI, terming it as a Kashmir sellout & hammering in that they are incompetent. So now we have a clear contest that will determine which narrative has been accepted by masses in general.
Now, what can be constituted as a success or failure? We know that whoever loses is going to scream fraud but that is the way of Pakistani politics. But in numerical terms, what should we the general public take as an indicator of success and failure?
PTI on its own is able to form the AJK Government that can be taken as the vindication of their stance and confirmation that the public has accepted their narrative. If PMLN & PPP in combination are able to muster the majority then it would definitely indicate that the public is accepting their narrative. This is the litmus test now and the date is July 25, 2021.
The author holds a Masters degree in Business Administration, Economics, and Computer Science. He worked for Unilever for 25 years. He is a professional translator/interpreter of five languages and is also a certified computer trainer. The author is currently living in Virginia, USA. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.