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July 26, 2019

Historic elections


July 26, 2019

July20, 2019 was an historic day for the people of the former tribal areas. The people of this area exercised their democratic right to elect their representatives for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly for the very first time. They had waited nearly 70 years for this occasion.

It was an historic day for the people of the tribal regions who suffered enormously for so long because of the draconian, inhuman and repressive laws called the FCR (Frontier Crimes Regulations) imposed on them by British imperialism.

Polling was held under heavy security arrangements, but the process was peaceful, as no major incident of violence occurred. The security forces, local administration and people of the district must be given credit for organising peaceful elections. It is a big achievement considering how vulnerable and volatile the region had been to terrorism and violence.

This is a big step forward for the people of the former tribal areas to gain democratic, political, judicial and constitutional rights as equal citizens of this country. These rights were denied to them for decades even after independence from the British colonial masters. It is a transition from bullets to ballots and from militancy to democracy.

The Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) which monitored the election process has declared these elections peaceful and fair in its preliminary report. Fafen did mention some irregularities and violations of election rules on some polling stations in its report but has said that overall it was free, fair and transparent.

Voter turnout was relatively low; 735,000 out of the 2.8m registered voters went to the polls. Nearly 28 percent voters cast their ballots. It was encouraging that women voters came out and exercised their right in every constituency.

According to the official results of 16 seats of provincial assembly in the newly merged tribal districts of KP, six seats went to independents, five to the PTI, three to the JUI-F and one each to the ANP and Jamaat-e-Islami.

Even though all the major political parties put up their candidates in the elections, in fact it was an election between Independents, the PTI and the JUI-F. Most of the seats saw three-way close contests between them. Independent candidates swept the Khyber district, winning all three seats. Even the PTI failed to challenge the independent candidates in this district.

The ANP won one seat from Mohmand district and its candidates got a good number of votes in four other constituencies. The JI too won one seat from the Bajaur district and lost the other two to PTI candidates with close margins. But the PPP and PML-N candidates failed to impress the voters and showed a poor performance.

It is a matter of great concern for both the main parties of the opposition that their candidates failed to make inroads in a single constituency in the former Fata region. They might blame the recent arrests in the ongoing accountability drive that targeted the opposition parties and a vicious propaganda campaign on the media for their poor performance. But the fact is that both parties failed to do proper homework and put serious effort into the election campaign.

The general impression and expectations were that the PTI would sweep the historic elections. But the night of July 20 came as a big disappointment for PTI supporters and leaders. The PTI seemed to be in an advantageous position as the ruling party in KP. But it seems that this factor did not help a lot in the elections. PTI leaders were expecting to win at least 12 seats but ended up with only five seats. The PTI lost all the three seats in Khyber district against independent candidates.

The main reasons behind this lacklustre performance are attributed to the bad decisions of awarding tickets, over estimation of popularity and rising inflation. The party ignored many potential candidates while awarding party tickets. The same candidates stood as independent candidates and defeated the official candidates of the PTI.

Independent candidates emerged as the real winners of this election. They proved that they still enjoy popular support in their respective constituencies.

Personal influence, wealth and tribal backing of the independent candidates played a key role in their success. The wealthy candidates spent their money lavishly to gain support. Nothing has been done so far to reduce the role of money in electoral politics to make it more inclusive, transparent and democratic. The strong and influential candidates belonging to traditional political and tribal families have done better in the elections than the candidates of political parties.

Political parties will take time to make deep roots in these areas as they were allowed to operate here just one decade ago. The political parties need to work hard to mobilise people and to organise on a grassroots level.

The writer is a freelance journalist.