MUZZAFERABAD, Pakistan-administered Kashmir

Voting kicked off Sunday in Pakistan-administered Kashmir to elect the state assembly.

More than 3.2 million voters are going to elect the 53-member house to a five-year term.

An excess of 700 candidates from 32 political and religious parties are contesting 45 general seats.

Eight are reserved seats with five for women and three — one each for religious scholars, technocrats and overseas Kashmiris.

The members for those seats are nominated after elections.

Out of 45 general seats, 12 are reserved for Kashmiri refugees who migrated from the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir in 1947 and 1965 and are settled in various parts of Pakistan. Therefore, in the 10 districts of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), elections are taking place for 33 seats.

Only 20 women are contesting elections for general seats from the 700 candidates.

Long queues of voters were seen at several polling stations in Muzzaferabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir, Mirpur, Bagh, Rawlakot, Kotli and other districts.

Voting will continue until 5 p.m.

Three political parties — Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) are neck-and-neck.

But analysts and those on the street believe the ruling PTI is emerging as a favorite. The history of elections in the region since 1975 indicated that parties ruling Islamabad or its allies have won elections in the region.

Following the division of Jammu and Kashmir into Pakistani and Indian-controled parts in 1947, the AJK was governed under the presidential form of government. In 1975, then-Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto introduced the parliamentary system of governance for the region.

This first government headed by Bhutto’s PPP was dismissed in 1977 due to the imposition of martial law in Pakistan by then-Army Chief Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. There were no elections until 1985.

The Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir is held by Pakistan and India in parts and claimed both in full. A small sliver of land is also held by China.

Since India revoked autonomy and divided the part that it is holding into two centrally administered territories on Aug. 5, 2019, elections in this part of the region, administered by Pakistan, have attained considerable significance.

Copyright 2022 Anadolu Agency. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.