MIRPUR (AJK)

Experts demanded electoral reforms, especially the preparation of computerised voter lists bearing snaps of voters to hold the upcoming general elections in a free, fair and transparent manner in Azad Kashmir.

Addressing a workshop, they suggested the refreshing of registered voters lists, re-demarcation of the electoral constituencies in view of the raise in population and establishment of new districts and tehsil headquarters in AJK as well as the registered voters lists of the Jammu & Kashmir refugees settled in Pakistan.

Experts including politicians, retired and serving officers, doctors, academicians, journalists, social worker and human rights activists called for initiation of the requisite measures before the announcement of the schedule of the forthcoming elections in Azad Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly, due for mid of next year.

A capacity building workshop of the seasoned civil society actors was hosted Kashmir Institute of the International Relations (KIIR) late Saturday. KIIR is holding a dialogue on Free, Fair and Independent Elections 2016 in AJK.

KIIR Executive Director Sardar Amja Yousaf and Program Coordinator Altaf Hamid Rao in their inaugural remarks highlighted the salient features of the workshop to raise awareness among the civil society especially the elders, for their due role in ensuring the holding of the forthcoming AJK elections in free and fair environment.

The participants included Ch Saeed, Dr Amin Chaudhry and Raja Naveed Akhter Goga of PML-N AJK, Ch Munir Husssain Advocate of PPP (Shaheed Bhutto) AJK, retired bureaucrat Shoukat Majeed Chaudhry, Research scholar and broadcaster Muhammad Shakeel, academicians Prof Qazi Zubair and Prof Sagheer Aasi, Altaf Hamid, Sohrab Ahmed Khan and Khawaja Shahid Mehmood and economist Rao Hassan Ejaz.

The participants also called for the performance of due individual and collective role of the civil society besides the stakeholders including the politicians and the political parties especially those jumping in the elections arena. They also suggested collective fight against the menace of the dynastic politics, undue massive use of money and regionalism which impede transparency of elections.

Sardar Amjad Yousaf, the executive director of Kashmir Institute of International Relations, said that since elections lie at the heart of any democratic process, in modern democracies, people are empowered through participatory mechanisms of governance, given voice through political means carried out in a free and transparent way.

He said that one of the hallmarks of good governance is accountability that creates a system of answerability wherein power holders are held accountable through structured process of elections. It is universally accepted that every adult citizen has the right to vote in elections, on a nondiscriminatory basis. Besides, all the individuals have the right to equal and effective access to a polling station in order to exercise his or her right to vote, he said. In a democratic system where elections are conducted in a free and fair manner, candidates are nominated for elections, have equal opportunity of access to the media, given security to lives and property, he observed.

An analyst said it was the basic need to ensure transparency in elections that no candidate or political party engage in violence and candidate and political party competing should respect the rights and freedoms of others and accept the election results.

On the other hand, government has a major role in conducting and ensuring free and fair elections, he added. He said that in the context of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), the democratic process has its own dynamics. It is part of larger conflict of Jammu and Kashmir while with the passage of time it has evolved its own democratic system, he said.

He pointed out that though AJK has a functioning government and institutions but more is required from the government to hold effective and transparent elections. Though lot of debate is generated in Pakistan on election reforms, but this is hardly reflected in AJK, he added.

AJK, he pointed out, is scheduled to witness elections to the state Legislative Assembly in mid of year 2016, so there was a need to generate debate on elections for transparency and fairness. It includes anchoring procedure for the registration of voters, or revising and updating electoral rolls, making election commission more autonomous and independent that could regulate political parties in a more transparent manner, he said. Besides, capacity building of people involved in election, staff, following code of conduct, respect of secret ballot, independent verifications are the areas where a deep deliberation is required, he said.