Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Electoral Landscape: Some Lessons from NA4 By-Elections

By Yasir Khan
With next general elections less than a year away and the current uncertain political landscape, recent by-election in NA4 took extra significance. The ruling PTI wanted to prove that its model of governance can payoff electorally. The opposition, on the other hand wanted to show that voters can see through the careful marketing strategy of PTI and do not believe it has delivered during the last four years.
The two main ruling parties, PTI in the provincial government and PML-N in the federal, pulled every trick of patronage based politics to extract support from the voters. The PML-N candidate, flanked by the powerful Advisor to the Prime Minister, had the upper hand in dolling out the goodies in the form household gas connections and restoration of electricity to the area. While the provincial departments settled for solar powered systems and promising rehabilitation of sewers and streets.
In the end the result was predictable but instructive of the new political landscape of Peshawar valley and maybe Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The PTI candidate, Arbab Amir Ayub, comfortably secured the most number of votes that are almost 20,000 more than the runner up candidate, Khushdil Khan of ANP and Nasir Khan Mosazai of PML-(N) who secured the third position.

Nevertheless distribution of votes and party standing compared to the 2013 elections are instructive. First, Nasir Khan Mosazai improved his vote collection over that of 2013. However this should not be a cause of any disillusion in the ranks of PML-N. The party’s effort to get support from JUIF did not benefit him in any way. The marginal increase in votes is probably more the works of delicate patronage based politics than extra voters coming out because JUI-F or PML-N appealed to them in any way.
ANP on the other hand has a lot to take from this election, both promising and concerning. The party’s goal of improving on its dismal show in 2013 election and posing a serious threat to PTI suffered a blow with the defection of Arbab Amir to PTI early this year. In this back drop, the veteran Khushdil Khan’s performance must have been heartening for the party and its battered support. However therein lies the party’s problem. It has clearly not been able to broaden its appeal wide enough to pose a serious challenge to PTI. It relies on targeting PTI’s leadership but does not offer a viable alternative to the current government. This means the support is stagnant, and probably short of a miracle they will at most be the runner up in other similar elections.

PTI on the other hand appears to have solidified its support into a core that seems formidable. This election is an indication that the party’s core workers are willing to come out in support of the party irrespective of any noise the opposition makes about their leadership and performance. They believe the message from party leadership whole heartedly and are willing to overlook the continued absence of their elected representatives from constituencies to be around the party Chairman, be it in Banigala or Nathiagali. This core support may turn out to be the jiyala equivalent of the current generation, a kind of neo-jiyalas.

Another important thing about this core support is their age profile. They are young, energetic and seem to have committed to the party ideology. Exit polls by non-partisan Center for Peace and Development Initiatives (CDPI), revealed PTI has support at almost every age group. But most importantly the younger age groups, who are going to stay involved in politics far longer, are predominantly PTI supporters.

PTI also has an advantage of having a master politicians in its ranks in the form of Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak

. While the party has unwavering support from its core voters, its elected ranks are far from unified. There are visible differences between the provincial cadres of the party on issues such as distribution of funds and next Chief Minister. These very public differences were probably one of the reason why the opposition even believed that they have a chance to dislodge PTI from NA4. But the Chief Minister, an old jiyala, successfully managed to convert these differences into an opportunity for himself. He has been on an offensive against the opposition parties, poaching their electables and filling the ranks of PTI with men who have seen the hot and cold of politics, understanding the value of compromise and politicking.

This means the opposition parties will have an uphill, probably impossible, task to dislodge PTI in the general elections if they continued with the current approach. PTI is vulnerable in the next election but only to the extent that the opposition parties understand its weakness and strengths. So far the opposition does not seem to have any clue about it.

About the Author: Yasir Khan is pursuing PhD at UC Berkeley.
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