PESHAWAR: The recent local government elections in 17 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa can be deemed as a rehearsal of the general elections.
The people expressed their decision in favour of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUIF), an ardent critic of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government both at the Centre and in the province.
The JUIF flew high in the polls and led the first phase of the elections at the top by winning 21 of the total 64 tehsil councils.
The ruling PTI could grab only 15, Awami National Party 7, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz 3, Pakistan People’s Party 1, the newly formed Tehrik-e-Islahat Pakistan 2, independents 12 and Jamaat-e-Islami just 2.
The two religious parties having almost similar ideas, popularity graph and the major component parties of one-time Muttahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) gave strange results.
The Maulana Fazlur Rahman-led JUIF was at the top, while the Sirajul Haq-led JI dived down to the bottom.
The JUIF won most of the seats and even if its candidates failed to secure victory in the remaining constituencies, they remained the runner-ups and bagged a huge count of ballots.
The JI, on the other hand, remained in no comparison with JUIF as its candidates stood at number four and five everywhere with tens of thousands fewer ballots than the JUIF candidates.
There are valid reasons for the magnificent victory of the JUIF and the humiliating defeat of the JI.
The prime reason for the JUIF landslide victory is its loud, clear and vigorous opposition to the government and its anti-people policies.
Maulana Fazlur Rahman started criticizing the 2018 general election and policies of the PTI from day one. He launched a countrywide anti-government campaign and held mammoth gatherings across the country. The 13-day long big sit-in was staged in the federal capital against the government.
The party ran a campaign against price-hike and joblessness. The people were angry at the government’s policies, especially the unbearable hike in prices of essential items and they expressed the anger by voting for the JUIF, which was the arch rival of the government.
On the other hand, the JI followed submissive policies. As once stated by the prime minister, the JI kept playing on both sides of the wickets.
They were opposed to the policies of the government, but were reluctant to join the joint opposition’s drive against it.
They tried to criticize the government and simultaneously wanted to keep the establishment happy.
Another reason, which contributed to the victory of the JUIF, is its massive support from mosques and seminaries. The party leaders and workers run the affairs of the majority of the mosques and seminaries in the province where an effective campaign was launched for the success of the party.
The people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa generally love religion and they can easily be motivated in its name.
Prayers and sermons were made at almost every mosque in the province for the success of JUIF candidates who were referred in speeches as torch-bearers of Islam and the remaining parties as representatives of infidel forces.
The JI, on the other hand, plays politics in the name of Islam but they rarely try to establish a religious seminary and take affairs of mosques into their hands.
Instead, they take much interest in contemporary education. If one compares the leadership of the two parties, the entire leadership of JI has graduated from colleges and universities, while all the leaders of JUIF are graduates from religious seminaries.
The JI has a great misconception that only they are the most organized party in national politics and only their leaders are neat and clean.
The party leaders always get into electoral politics thinking that only they are the real alternative and they can change the fate of the country.
They never think of the aspirations of the common voters. The JUIF remains interested in local politics, while JI wastes its energies in international politics.
Aware of the nature of politics in the province, the JUIF makes local adjustments and alliances, while the JI remains overconfident in making solo flights.
The example of election for the mayor of Peshawar is before everyone. The JUIF made a local alliance with Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, Qaumi Watan Party and other component parties of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and won the most important seat easily by a big margin.
The ticket distribution was another important phase, which made the success of the JUIF possible and caused a setback to the JI.
The JUIF leadership paid a detailed visit to the whole province long before the polls and made the decision of awarding tickets after having a thorough consultation with general councils of the party at district level. It fielded the strongest candidates for all slots.
The JI, on the other hand, issued a list of candidates from the provincial headquarters through social media without taking the local structure and members of the party into confidence.
The decision led to resentment within the party.
Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s hold on the party and his exemplary power of decision also contributed to the success of the party.
He takes bold decisions to keep the party united. Even if he faces opposition from towering leaders like Maulana Mohammad Khan Sherani at central and Maulana Gul Naseeb Khan and Shujaul Mulk at the provincial level, he never hesitates from expelling them from the party.
Sirajul Haq, on the other hand, is very weak in decision making.
After the 2018 general elections when a central committee led by Asadullah Bhutto analyzed the reasons for the failure of the party in the province and suggested action against provincial president Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, the central chief of the party not only avoided taking action against the provincial president but also made personal efforts to convince the latter to take back his resignation.
Some reports suggested that the central and provincial leadership of the JI was engaged in serious differences.
The two leaders could not be seen sharing a stage during the entire election campaign. Also, there are serious intra-party differences in the party at the grassroots level.
However, the party discipline is so strong that the differences are not expressed and felt publicly.
The party sources said the provincial leadership cannot tolerate seasoned and popular figures within the party and sideline them.
Almost all the JI leaders at the provincial, as well as the district level, are either junior to the provincial chief or are not that popular.
Political parties can’t be run effectively with such a narrow mindset.
The most dangerous aspect that has always contributed to the JI’s failure is the overestimation of its popularity.
Even after suffering the humiliating defeat in the current local government elections, the party leaders keep proudly sharing a tabulated list of the party’s councillors elected in different districts to show that they have gained enough success.
If they dare to see similar lists, if formulated by JUIF, their eyes would become wide open.
The results of the local government elections show that JUIF may emerge as a major party in the next general elections as well.
While the JI, if it wants to stay in the political arena, would have to seriously rethink its policies and for this purpose, bold decisions would need to be taken.
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