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Why the Upcoming Local Body Elections in PoJK are an Eyewash

After a lapse of 31 years, Pakistan occupied Jammu Kashmir (PoJK) seems all set for the local bodies (LB) elections on November 27. So far a total of 13,637 candidates have submitted their nomination papers in 10 districts. From each district the nomination papers submitted by the aspiring candidates is as follows: Bhimber 1347, Neelum 735, Mirpur 1387, Jhelum Valley 699, Kotli 2570, Sadhnuti 991, Bagh 1506, Haveli Kathua 460, Poonch 1800 and Muzaffarabad 2142. Total number of people in PoJK who are eligible to cast their vote is 29,48,200 among which 15,64,902 are male and 13,83,102 are female voters.

Those who get elected will join Dehi (village), Union and District Councils respectively. A total of 2080 Village and Union Council councillors will be elected in addition to 280 district councillors. Five municipal corporations, 133 municipal wards and 4 municipal committees will be set up.

Candidates have already begun to vigorously campaign and attract voters. However, the question is what kind of a local body government system is going to emerge as a result of these elections.

Will it be something similar to the District Development Councils (DDC) elections of Indian Jammu Kashmir that devolved decision making powers to the grassroots level? Or is it going to be a controlled and manipulated exercise?

A close look at the process of the election, from start to end, should supply us with some clues. First and foremost, the nomination forms that are handed out to the aspiring candidates has a section in which it says that the candidate believes in the finality of the prophet Muhammed. Secondly, it demands the candidate to pledge its allegiance to the ideology of Pakistan and finally it makes it mandatory for the candidate to agree to PoJK's accession to Pakistan. Let us examine this compulsory oath.

By allowing only those who believe in the finality of prophet Mohamed, all other religious groups have been excluded from the election process. Secondly, to force the candidate to pledge allegiance to the ideology of Pakistan, imposes on the candidate the obligation to accept the politico-religious fascist ideology of Two-Nation Theory of the founding father of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jannah, which in itself is a communal ideology based on Hindu phobia.

And finally, to demand of the candidate to show, promise and succumb to their choice of making an informed and independent decision regarding the future of PoJK by accepting PoJK's accession to Pakistan is a form of colonial tyranny of the worst kind.

The United Nations resolutions have classed PoJK as a disputed territory. How can it be demanded of my people to sign an oath of allegiance to Pakistan? Therefore, these local body elections, which are due on November 27, do not represent the broad political, religious or even cultural spectrum of PoJK.

Adnan Rahman, a faculty member of the department of Law at the university in Muzaffarabad in PoJK observes that current LB elections are being held under the 1990 Act.

This Act is draconian and is designed to obstruct any attempt that might lead to the wider participation of the broader masses in the grassroots level decision making process. In other words, it hampers participatory democracy instead of enhancing it.

For example, Rahman notes that the local councils will be controlled by an army of unelected officials and directors, the Prime Minister of PoJK has the powers to disqualify a single or more elected councillors at will and even wrap up the whole LB government system and call for a new election. This gives full power to the unelected officials and directors to control the development funds as well as to the prime minister to cut short the tenure of local bodies and recall elections that gives him an opportunity for political engineering.

Under a highly centralised system the devolution of powers such as in Jammu Kashmir's DDC election will not be possible at all. Therefore, the basic objective of LBs to ensure participation of the public representatives in the decision making process is already thrown out of the window.

In conclusion, the LB elections due on November 27 are nothing but an eyewash. They are being held to put sand in the eyes of the local population as well as in those at the United Nations. The only way forward would be to free PoJK from the colonial rule of Pakistan and form a people's representative and democratic government that would ensure devolution of power to the grassroots level of decision making. Until that happens the role of both the government of PoJK as well as that of the local bodies will be no more than a legal cover for the ongoing plunder of my land.

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