Published On: Thu, Aug 25th, 2016

Voting trends in AJK

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Ayesha Gardezi

images3The state legislative assembly elections were recently held in AJK. I, being a first time voter, was very excited for exercising my right to vote and hence contributing in the formation of a government. Say what you will about democracy, but it does make ordinary, unimportant people like you and I feel the taste of power for about a day or so. A common man is the most powerful, I believe, when he puts a stamp on one of the provided candidates’ name on the ballot paper and when as he slides that vote in the ballot box, he basically transfers that power to the person he votes for. It baffles me how some people take this huge responsibility casually. I, for one, mulled over it a for a long time before I made a decision as to who to vote for and on what criterion do I deem a candidate worthy of my vote. Because what good is democracy if people don’t realize the extent to which it empowers them and how to use it for the right reasons.
The reason for my excessive use of the word “power” in the above paragraph is that I see people whining and complaining about political and social issues, which is a positive thing because it reflects we as a society are aware of our political scenario, but what’s not great is the fact that none of us realize that we, the people, have the right, rather the duty, to affect what we don’t like about the system, to partake in reforming the system even formation of a whole new system; that is what I think is ‘power’. Again, by electing our representative we transfer that power to the individual we vote for but on what yardstick should we measure the ability of a candidate while casting a vote in his; that is a question I, and all young voters, were faced with.
I could go into the details of why I voted for the candidate I did but, let me explain AJK’s voting trend for you, first. In AJK, baradaris are united and hence way stronger than in any other region of Pakistan. It goes without saying that this gives rise to extreme prejudice and bias between different baradaris. In AJK, it is common to vote for a candidate for the sole reason that you share a surname with him. This is an unfortunate practice which is so deep rooted in the politics of AJK that we do not even feel ashamed of it anymore. Candidates for legislative assemblies proudly flaunt their surnames, showcase them in bold fonts on posters and stickers and their baradri proudly claims to have enough votes within the baradri to win the election. The most obvious and biggest disadvantage of this practice is that surname always transcends merit and excellence. A person could be incompetent, corrupt even, and still win a seat in the legislative assembly because he belongs to a large tribe. Baradri-ism as it is called here in AJK is definitely one of the major drawbacks of a system of government as beneficial as democracy.
Another unfortunate political trend I observed in AJK is that issue based politics is non-existent. A party or candidate’s stance on issues, his ideologies, manifesto and vision are not the yardstick by which a voter deems a candidate worthy of his vote, as it should be. Most of the times, the voter only considers some trivial, personal problem and vote for the candidate who they think will solve it.. Since there are no industries or big businesses in AJK, the most attractive jobs are in government. Most people rely on government jobs for the comfort of security and a fixed monthly income. There is a very common misconception among the masses that the candidate they vote for must personally appoint them or their relatives on government jobs. It is shameful that people of AJK refuse to accept the fact that the legislative and executive are there to create employment opportunities for them and to provide a system that ensures the supremacy of merit in job interviews and testing. More often than not, a voter expects his elected representative to bestow government job on him personally for the sole reason that he voted for him, which is preposterous. After bradarism, it is the most common reason for electing a representative here in AJK. Another common consideration for voting is small issues which are supposed to be dealt with by the local bodies and municipal corporation but due to lack of local government bodies and inefficiency of municipal corporation, it is often mistook as legislative assembly’s function to build pavements and fix pipelines and sewage lines. People may exercise their right to vote in large number here in AJK but their reasons and consideration are mostly wrong. How beneficial could an exercise be if carried out for wrong reasons?
Now, one may ask if tribe and personal problems are not the criterion to vote for a candidate of legislative assembly then what is. The answer lies in the question itself. A member of the ‘legislative assembly’ must be able to ‘legislate’ i.e. to make laws. The function of legislative bodies is to make laws and form policies to run the state whereas; the state legislature of AJK concerns itself with smaller issues. Instead of creating employment opportunities, they make political appointments with no regard to merit and instead of holding the local body elections they engage themselves in tasks that are supposed to be accomplished by local body representatives. Besides Kashmir Council and legislative assembly, a third tier of democracy i.e. local government bodies needs to be introduced in AJK so that the legislature and executive are free to focus on issues of national importance. PMLN’s manifesto promised a local body election in the state, it can only be hoped that the new government will keep its word.
The reason no institution in the state performs its assigned function may be a result of voters not being aware of what in fact is the function of their legislature and executive. It is also because of an absence of local government bodies. What a municipal body should be doing is being done by the legislature and the executive which leaves the important issues completely unnoticed. Who would deal with state’s fiscal matters, determine important state policies and lawmaking in general and most importantly its stance on the right to self-determination when the members of legislature direct all their attentions and energies towards making political appointments as they had promised their voters. It is very important that the voter understand the functions of the legislature and the executive that it elects. The voter needs to understand that he/she is handing over great power in the form of his vote to the MLA and he is settling for way less than he deserves. He needs to understand that the candidate who he shares a common surname with him might not be as adept as a legislator or an administrator as the one who lacks the support of a large tribe but knows his job. In a nutshell, let’s just say that when you cast a vote in someone’s name, make sure he is capable of making policies and laws, running the departments of government, make sure he stands for an ideology that you believe in, make sure that he has more to offer than empty slogans, make sure that he understands the political and socials dynamics of the region, make sure that he is conversant on the power dynamics between the Pakistan and the AJK governments and make sure that a surname is not the only thing that makes him worthy of your vote.

A huge voter turnout might be something to rejoice over but it is alarming how unaware the voters are of how the system works which is again a plus for the representatives because why wouldn’t they want to get away with doing the bare minimum while completely ignoring their crucial duties that the constitution imposes on them.
Another downside of the parliamentary form of government which is exercised in AJK is that the executive is appointed from within the legislative assembly. That way the elected representatives are always in pursuit of getting their hands on a ministry and the focus is once again shifted from the actual task of law and policy making to a race for a seat in. More often than not our ministers meddle in government departments to put in a good word for an incompetent relative or voter seeking a job while they should be creating employment opportunity for the educated lot of the nation, ensuring merit and stability among the institutions and enforcing the laws and policies coined by the legislature. Owing to this trend of ministers using their influence to make appointments in government, AJK’s administration is heavily infested with political appointees which are not only a dent in state’s budge but also the reason of system’s inefficiency.
Nevertheless, the people of AJK are well versed with the political and social dynamics of the region. It might take them some time to fully grasp how their elected bodies function and on what standards to hold a representative but at least on the morning of July 21 they left their homes to perform their duty to the nation in large numbers. It can only be hoped that one day the democracy will bear its fruit and the institutions will perform their own tasks.


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