Part - III
The single biggest issue uniting the opposition in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is an intense dislike of Imran Khan. This perhaps suits the binary politics of Punjab. But in a province like KP and with such a weak mandate as has been explained in the first part of this series, it is also a recipe for electoral defeat.
The former coalition partners, the ANP and the PPP, should on paper be in a strong position. Usually, by this stage the electorate has started to forget the previous ruling party’s actions of omission and commission. The security situation has also improved significantly, allowing more open campaigning. The reality has not been as positive.
The PPP’s decline in share of votes and failure to attract new voters is markedly evident in the lacklustre showings in recent jalsas. The Frontier jiyala in his heyday was a force. This was a party that could field candidates from one end of the province to the other and poll votes regardless. In the Pakhtun belt, in particular, it had bested many big name influentials and outflanked the Pakhtun nationalist supporters on many issues. It was the first party to push for renaming the province in the provincial assembly and campaigned on an anti-Kalabagh dam stance.
The party brand has been in steady decline since the split with Aftab Sherpao and the death of Benazir Bhutto. The final blow to the party, however, came from another place. Asif Zardari, a man known for his fierce loyalty to his friends and family, was historically closely associated with the ANP. This personal relationship has meant that he went to extraordinary lengths to credit these traditional PPP issues – renaming and provincial autonomy – to the ANP. Being reduced to a junior partner to a party they traditionally were fierce rivals with pushed many anti-ANP voters away from the PPP.
The ANP, on the other hand, has a new generation of workers who are articulate and passionate but have to deal with a party leadership that seems to have lost its bearings. In a world where it carries the baggage of governance and in a post 18th Amendment context, no longer are issues such as renaming or Kalabagh dam or autonomy going to rally voters. Leaders of stature like Mian Iftikhar and Haider Hoti have been restricted to their own constituencies. Amidst all this, the party leader seems to be busy grooming his son Aimal Wali for future leadership. So far, Aimal’s various launches and relaunches have been unimpressive. He has shown no effective campaigning ability, politicking or administrative competence. Despite this, the only saving grace is that the party remains deft at forging local alliances and picking strong candidates.
The PML-N is better placed now, having consolidated the League vote which was previously split between the PML -Q and PML-N. The old Hazara-dominated leadership has not won an election since 1997 and played little if any constructive role in the party. They had made few if any efforts to woo back PML-N voters in the Pakhtun belt. They also had a negative role in opposing the merger of Fata with KP. Rather than seeing it as an opportunity to expand the PML-N’s influence they blocked it for fear of their region’s influence being diminished.
The top leadership has finally realised this and made the dramatic decision to end Sardar Mehtab and Pir Sabir Shah’s monopoly over party offices in favour of a new troika of the resource-rich Ameer Muqam, Javed Abbassi and the patronage of Governor Iqbal Jhagra. The rise of Ameer Muqam is most interesting. As a former JI politician he owed his election in 2002 to his relative, the late Pir Muhammad Khan. Defecting to the PML-Q, he is said to have impressed Pervez Musharraf with his generosity and remained close to him. Repeating this tactic with the Sharifs, he has now won favour with Maryam Nawaz and the Sharif inner circle. His task has been very simple – ensure the election defeat of the PTI. This new troika has ambitiously started wooing candidates from areas the PML-N has not had a presence in for nearly two decades.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s JUI-F has steadily increased its number of voters in the province. Its leader is famed for his ability to forge real-politik alliances with ease. After the PTI, the JUI-F also has a cross-province presence through its madressah network. The biggest concern for Maulana Fazl is the threat the PTI poses in their own electoral backyard. Nothing reflects this more than the fact that Imran Khan campaigned and defeated the Maulana’s brothers in the post-2013 by-elections. This to some extent explains why the normally unflappable Maulana becomes visibly irritated at the mention of Imran Khan’s name. This electoral threat is compounded by the unimpressive performance of Fazl’s unofficial preferred candidate for chief minister, his brother Maulana Lutfur Rehman.
The common factor binding these parties is the threat that Imran Khan poses in their own home constituencies. The only party that can field a candidate everywhere, from Charsadda to Abbottabad to Shangla to DI Khan, is the PTI.
The opposition should have used the last four years to articulate a clear vision for the province as an alternative to the PTI’s poor performance on key voter issues like development, education, health and corruption. Unfortunately, they seem to have taken a page out of the PTI’s campaign against the PML-N. This can be best summed up as: ‘Why prove I’m right, when I can prove my opponent wrong?’
All in all, things are looking good for the KP opposition, despite – not because of – itself. This three-part series has been a snapshot of how things are today. Much can change over this next year; a crisis could engulf the federal or provincial governments, there could be snap elections or economic crises. As it stands – visionless and united in distrust of the PTI and not in hope of a better future, at this moment – the next elections are for the opposition to lose.
The writer is the founder of the website: www.qissa-khwani.com