Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa by elections: After the Tsunami

-A modified version of this article was published by THE NEWS today. update the Tank by election was postponed due to security concerns

Imran Khan's candidate Gul Badshah for Peshawar. At the top
are pictures of allies leader of the JI and QWP
Munawar Hasan and Aftab Sherpao
Countless bomb blasts, devastating floods, a massive jail break in which hundreds of suspected militants escape, a demoralised police force facing devastating attacks, a hostile media, a party riven by factionalism and inexperience and having to try and live up to its own rhetoric. All of this is just par for course in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa since the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf’s provincial government took charge.

Fast coming up to its one hundred day mark the fledging PTI with its allies, Jamaat-e-Islami, Qaumi Watan Party of Aftab Sherpao and Awami Jamhoori Ittehad Pakistan of Swabi’s Tarakai family face their first electoral test with the August by elections

While traditional logic states that by elections in Pakistan’s patronage dominated system means the incumbent provincial party is usually the winner. While this is often the case, nationally one of the most famous upsets of recent times have been by elections on NA seats like when little known Hanif Abbasi defeated Sheikh Rashids nephew in Rawalpindi.

Peshawar ANP candidate NA-1 (R) Ghulam Bilour
with a picture of his assassinated brother Bashir
Bilour on the left. At the top L-R Maulana Fazl
late Benazir Bhutto and Asfandyar Wali.
The centre is written 'Admirer of the Prophet'
This time the seats are being seriously contested by the opposition, up for grabs are five national seats. The symbolism of the seats means an incumbent defeat would be damaging in the eyes of their supporters and this is one reason for the increasingly harsh exchange of words between Imran Khan and Maulana Fazl. The first is Peshawar and NA-1 which Imran Khan has vacated after defeating Ghulam Bilour, the second and third were vacated by PTI’s national general secretary the Chief Minister Pervez Khattak and provincial president Asad Qaiser in Swabi who defeated Daud Khattak of the ANP and Maulana Attaul Haq Darwaish of the JUI-F respectively. At the Southern end of the province the fourth seat is Lakki Marwat where the JUI-F handily defeated the PML candidate Salim Saifullah with PTI coming a distant third, while in the second seat of Tank the site of Imran Khan’s attempted rally into Waziristan the runner up Dawar Kundi of the PTI lost the seat to the JUI-F.
The ANP and JUI-F in particular have significant votebanks in areas the by elections are being contested. The other two big party’s the PPP and PML-N while having significant vote banks have seemingly abandoned the contest. In case of the former the provincial party seems to be still reeling from the scale of the party’s rout and has decided to back the ANP and JUI-F, while the latters national leadership seems disinterested in the province and is not contesting any seat.

In Peshawar the PTI nominated Imran Khan’s election campaigner Gul Badshah for the seat, originally of Afghan descent his campaign has struggled to attract the same crowds as his party leader. Opposing him is ANP’s stalwart Ghulam Bilour, however things have changed since the general election, as attacks on the party have relented Bilour has been able to campaign relatively more openly and has gained the support of the PPP as well as the JUI-F. In Swabi the PTI’s provincial president and provincial assembly speaker Asad Qaiser has kept it within the family with his brother Aqibullah being the party nominee. Opposing him is candidate Maulana Attaul Haq Darvesh JUI-F backed by their new found allies the ANP and PPP. The seat was a struggle for the PTI the first time around saved by a splintered opposition and any win will likely be with the help of patronage and the backing of the powerful Tarakai family.

In Nowshera, the Chief Ministers nephew and son-in-law Dr. Imran Khattak is in the run with the backing of the Jamaat-e-Islami against the ANP-PPP-JUI-F candidate Daud Khattak. This seat was won by a large margin by PTI and the addition of JI vote should give the advantage easily to the PTI. Further south in Lakki Marwat and Tank where tribal loyalties play a stronger role then party loyalties, Maulana Fazlur Rehmans brother Maulana Ata-ur Rehman is facing the PTI’s candidate Ameerullah Khan who is this time backed by the influential Saifullahs making what should have been a easy win for the JUI-F far more competitive. In Tank, Maulana Asad , Fazl-re Rehmans son is in the run and faces PTI’s Dawar Kundi, while nominally the PPP has withdrawn their candidate in support of the JUI-F , it remains to be seen whether the powerful Kundi tribe will follow their line. If they choose to vote en-bloc for the PTI candidate it may inflict a personal humiliation on Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman. All in all despite a difficult security situation it seems the opposition has no intention of leaving the field open for PTI and its new government.

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