August Issue 2019

By | Newsbeat National | Published 1 month ago

The election in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), on July 20, completed another milestone in mainstreaming the districts that were merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) in May 2018.

The outcome of the election was important for the political parties, particularly the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), as it showed the trends in terms of its popularity, even if the polls were being held in a remote corner of northwestern Pakistan. The result also highlighted the importance of the independent candidates who did well in the election by winning six of the 16 seats in the KP Assembly and are now mostly poised to join the PTI in return for a berth in the provincial cabinet and other favours.

A tribesman casts his vote for the first provincial elections in Jamrud.

On the positive side, the holding of the election within the one-year period, as stipulated by the 25th Constitutional Amendment that accomplished FATA’s merger with KP, was not only the fulfilment of the constitutional obligation, but also a political requirement that was vital to accelerate the process of reforms and bring the long-neglected and underdeveloped tribal areas into the political mainstream.

The concerns about holding the election on time were addressed, even though opposition parties had criticised the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) decision to postpone the polls for 18 days, on the request of the PTI-led KP government, due to security issues. The opposition had even raised doubts that the PTI government wanted to delay the election in the merged tribal districts for a longer period, as it feared losing on account of the drop in its popularity due to the poor state of the economy and the unprecedented price hike.

Though the independents led by securing six seats, two of them have already joined the PTI and the others may be tempted to make a similar decision. The PTI swiftly made contact with the independently elected MPAs as Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and some of the provincial ministers, swung into action to lure them to join the ruling party. Those independents  who are taking their time before committing to any party, include Abbas Rahman from Mohmand district, and Mohammad Shafiq and Bilawal Afridi from Khyber district.

The first to join the PTI was Shafiq Sher Afridi, the MPA from the PK-105 constituency in Khyber district and nephew of former MNA Shahjee Gul Afridi. It remains to be seen if Shahjee Gul Afridi’s son, Bilawal Afridi, elected from PK-106 (Khyber), will follow suit or take a different course than his cousin. Afridi, who was among the few tribal parliamentarians who had steadfastly led the campaign for the merger of FATA with KP during the PML-N rule, is a seasoned politician and will ensure that his family benefits politically in the event that his son and nephew join the PTI.

The other independent MPA who has already joined the PTI, is Ghazi Ghazan Jamal, son of veteran parliamentarian Dr Ghazi Gulab Jamal, commonly known as Dr G. G. Jamal, elected from Orakzai district. The young Jamal, who is Sunni, defeated the PTI candidate Shoaib Hasan of the Shia community. One reason as to why he joined the PTI without wasting any time may have been to avoid any scenario in which the government would give more importance to his defeated rival and provide him with more development funds. Another reason may be because he aims to become a minister in the provincial government.

However, the PTI, with its two-thirds majority in the KP Assembly, has no real need to rope in the independent MPAs, as its government is stable. In fact, getting the independent lawmakers to join the party would put the government under pressure to give them positions as ministers, advisors, or chairmen of the district development advisory committees. They would also be hoping to get a proper share in the development funds.

Another candidate elected as an independent is Mir Kalam Wazir, who was backed by the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) in the PK-112 constituency, in North Waziristan. As the PTM is not registered with the ECP, Mir Kalam Wazir had to contest the election as an independent candidate. For the same reason, in the July 2018 general election, PTM leaders Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, had contested the polls as independent candidates and won the National Assembly seats from North Waziristan and South Waziristan districts, respectively.

The PTM had backed other candidates as well in the recent election, but they could not win, losing mostly to the PTI and JUI-F nominees in its strongholds of North Waziristan and South Waziristan. It is true that the inability of the three top PTM leaders, including Manzoor Pashteen and the imprisoned Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, to take part in the election campaign of their candidates affected their chances of victory. Still, the PTM-supported candidates could have garnered the sympathy vote as their two leaders were in jail and Pashteen was not able to campaign freely.

The PTI performed below its expectations as it won only five seats in the provincial assembly. Chief Minister Mahmood Khan had predicted that the party would emerge victorious in 10 to 12 constituencies, while the Information Minister, Shaukat Yousafzai, was confident of winning a dozen. Both were way off the mark. In last year’s general election in the merged tribal districts, the PTI had performed much better by winning six of the 12 National Assembly seats.

The PTI performed well in Bajaur district, where it won two of the three provincial assembly seats, the third going to the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI). The PTI winners were Anwar Zeb Khan and Ajmal Khan. However, going by the 2018 general election result, when the PTI won both the National Assembly seats in Bajaur, the party should have secured victory in all three provincial assembly constituencies.

In the adjacent Mohmand district, the PTI failed to win any of the two KP Assembly seats, even though it had won the lone National Assembly seat from Mohmand last year.

The party’s performance was dismal in Khyber, where all three seats were won by independent candidates. Differences regarding the distribution of PTI tickets and the presence of a number of party activists in the contest as independents, took its toll. In one notable case in Khyber, Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, Pir Noorul Haq Qadri, allegedly supported a PTI dissident, Shermat Khan, instead of the party candidate, Shahid Shinwari. Both lost and independent contestant, Shafiq Sher Afridi, won easily.

While the PTI failed to win the only provincial assembly seat in Orakzai, it managed to secure one of the two in the adjoining Kurram district, through its influential candidate, Syed Iqbal Mian. The second seat was won by the JUI-F’s Riaz Shaheen Bangash.

The PTI’s Mohammad Iqbal won from the PK-111 constituency in North Waziristan, defeating JUI-F and PTM candidates who were favourites. In South Waziristan, PTI managed to win one of the two provincial assembly seats through Naseerullah Khan. The other was bagged by the JUI-F’s Maulana Hissamuddin. The PK-115 constituency, for the six former Frontier Regions, was won by the JUI-F’s Mohammad Shoaib after a tough contest with PTI’s Abidur Rahman.

With three seats, the JUI-F emerged, predictably, as the second-largest party in the erstwhile FATA. It had won three out of the 12 National Assembly seats from the tribal areas in the July 2018 polls. Like the PTI, its share of votes and assembly seats also dropped.

The JI and the Awami National Party (ANP) won one seat each, even though both had fielded 13 candidates. The JI’s winner was Sirajuddin, who enjoyed personal popularity due to his social and charity work in PK-102 constituency. The ANP’s Nisar Mohmand emerged the winner in Mohmand, defeating the PTI’s Rahim Shah in a close contest.

The big losers in the election were the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), who failed to win a single assembly seat. The latter could find only five candidates willing to contest the election on a PML-N ticket. The PPP has been on the decline in all provinces and areas, except for Sindh, and putting it back on track seems to be a Herculean task.

The participation of women voters in the election in ex-FATA has been on the rise. The primary reason is the fear among the candidates and the political parties that the election result in a particular constituency could be cancelled by the ECP in case less than 10 per cent of the women cast their ballots. To meet this requirement, the candidates and parties made an effort to mobilise the female voters. The ECP too made better arrangements than it has in the past, to enable the women to cast their votes near their homes.

However, many women stayed away, or returned from polling stations without having voted, when they and their menfolk became aware that close circuit cameras, while recording the entire process, were also taking their pictures. The ECP would have to find a way to resolve this and other issues that could discourage women voters from voting.  

Rahimullah Yusufzai is a Peshawar-based senior journalist who covers events in the NWFP, FATA, Balochistan and Afghanistan. His work appears in the Pakistani and international media. He has also contributed chapters to books on the region.