ISLAMABAD - Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will have a first taste of leading his party into a full-fledged election as the Pakistan People’s Party will take the field in the June 26 Azad Jammu Kashmir polls.

Bilawal leads the PPP while his father Asif Ali Zardari is the head of the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians – an entity within the PPP. The senior Zardari continues to influence major decision-making in the PPP but has given his son a reasonable authority in the recent months.

Zardari’s PPPP is not registered in the AJK and the election symbol ‘arrow’ is allotted to the PPP. In Pakistan, the PPPP is registered with the Election Commission as a separate party and the PPP – with no parliamentary representation – is listed as a distinct party led by Bilawal and Sardar Latif Khosa as its Secretary General.

Since 2002, the PPPP has been contesting the elections on behalf of the parent party and efforts to re-engage the PPP have faced legal hurdles. It is expected the PPPP will contest the fourth successive general elections for the PPP in 2018 as merger of the electoral extension with the parent party seemed tricky.

The PPPP was formed in 2002 from within the PPP to counter a law that prohibited the parties led by convicted leaders from contesting the polls. Because of military ruler Pervez Musharraf’s 2002 decree Benazir Bhutto was also not permitted to stand for elections in the 2002 general elections. The law – now scrapped - also banned individuals from becoming the prime minister for a third term.

In response to these obstacles, the PPP split, registering a new, distinct branch - the PPPP. Legally separate and free from the restrictions brought upon the PPP by Bhutto’s leadership, the PPPP participated in the 2002 elections, in which it proceeded to earn a strong vote.

The PPPP contested again in 2008 to win the general polls for the PPP and in 2013 to end up as the second largest bloc in the National Assembly. It won elections in Sindh to form the provincial government.

In Pakistan the PPP has been granted the election symbol of ‘two swords’ by the Election Commission while the PPPP contests on ‘arrow.’

Yesterday, Secretary General PPP Sardar Latif Khosa asked aspiring party candidates of the AJK assembly to submit their applications by March 20.

“Applications should be addressed to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Chairman Pakistan People’s Party, with a Bank draft of Rs25,000 (twenty five thousands) payable to PPP. The address to send application is as under. Zardari House, house number 8, street 19, F-8/2, Islamabad,” said a party statement.

Bilawal was the de-jure chief of the PPP when it contested the 2011 AJK polls with his father and aunt Faryal Talpur making key decisions. This time though, he has been quite active and pushing to revive the party’s lost glory.

The young party leader, according to the close aides, will take a final decision on the awarding of tickets to the candidates.

A senior PPP leader told The Nation, the PPPP was not registered in the AJK and the PPP owned the symbol of ‘arrow’ in the autonomous state.

“The PPP will contest as it did in 2011. The PPPP is not registered as a party in AJK,” Secretary Information PPPP Faisal Karim Kundi said.

He said the PPP hoped to win in the AJK polls despite the ‘pre-polls rigging’ by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz).

“Prime Minister (Nawaz Sharif) and his ministers have been visiting the AJK and making promises. Still if there are lesser irregularities, we will finish good,” he added.

Kundi said the PML-N had an advantage but the PPP had a chance to win. “We will finish first or second. The PTI (Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf) could be at the third place,” he predicted.

The PPPP leader said Bilawal was expected to visit the AJK for a few election rallies but the schedule had not been finalised.

“He will come back to Pakistan on March 6 and is likely to visit Islamabad around March 10-14. We will then be able to tell if his AJK visit is on or not,” Kundi elaborated.

AJK Election Commission has announced the general elections would be held on June 26. Around 220,000 voters from Azad Kashmir and 610,000 Kashmiri refugees in Pakistan will exercise their right to vote, according to the official data. The ruling PML-N has already announced candidates to run in June 26 elections for the AJK Legislative Assembly.

PML-N leader Senator Raja Zafrul Haq said the party’s board transparently conducted the selection process and interviewed the applicants from 41 constituencies.

The party has entered into an adjustment with the Jamaat-e-Islami and the PPP in four constituencies including LA-2(Central Bagh) LA-19(Poonch-3 Rawala Kot), LA-20 (Poonch-4/Paachute) and LA-41 (Valley-6 Pakhtunkhwa, Abbottabad and Haripur).

Information Minister Pervez Rashid hoped the people will vote for the PML-N in the June 26 polls as they had rejected the ‘corrupt and inefficient’ PPP.

Rashid said Prime Minister Sharif wanted to develop the AJK and if voted to power the PML-N will fulfill this dream. Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit Baltistan Chaudhry Mohammed Barjees Tahir said all the parties were being given a fair chance to contest the AJK polls.

“The Kashmiri people must exercise their right of vote according to their conscience and elect a government of their choice,” he said. He asked the AJK Election Commission to engage army and judiciary in the election process.

Earlier, Bilawal said Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto had special place in their hearts for Kashmir and Kashmiri people.

The PPP leader said he will follow policy of his predecessors on Kashmir issue as late Benazir Bhutto had taken several measures for the betterment for Kashmiri people. The PPP chief promised to visit the AJK soon.

PTI Chief Imran Khan, the arch nemesis of both the PPP and the PML-N, believes only his party could bring a change in AJK as according to him the two major parties had failed to deliver in the past.

He alleged Prime Minister Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari were involved in massive corruption and the people would reject them in the AJK polls.