A shaken politics

February 18, 2024

The 2024 general elections marked a significant shift in the political landscape of Balochistan

A shaken politics


n the polling day in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, the contrast between various communities’ participation in the election could not have been starker. In many suburban areas such as Sariab Road, the turnout was dishearteningly low. Burdened by disillusionment or hindered by logistical constraints, most of the residents of these areas stayed away; casting a shadow over the day’s democratic promise. The city centre, meanwhile, pulsed with great energy and became a vibrant hub of civic engagement. Queues of eager voters stretched around corners, their faces lit with the enthusiasm of participation.

The February 8 elections marked a significant shift in the political landscape, with both Baloch and Pashtun nationalists suffering a noticeable decline in their influence and representation in the provincial assembly. Even a cursory comparison of the results of the last three election cycles makes this evident. In the 2013 elections, the nationalists had secured 27 seats; the number dropped to 18 in the 2018 elections. The 2024 elections have seen this number dwindle further to just 8, indicating a substantial loss of ground.

This decline reflects changing political dynamics and voter preferences in the region, possibly pointing to a growing disenchantment with nationalist platforms. These parties have failed to live up to their promise. Many voters have come to see their political behaviour as not much different from other conventional parties. As a result, their appeal for voters in Balochistan along ethnic lines has diminished. Another reason for their downfall is the rise of electable politicians who can win their seats on their own and then join any party. The clout of such politicians has eroded the relevance and strength of the nationalist parties in Balochistan.

The electoral battleground in 2024 was dominated by major federation-wide political players. The Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam emerged as the leading forces, each carving out significant portions of the electoral pie with 11, 10 and 10 seats, respectively. Independents made a notable impact by securing 6 seats, demonstrating the electorate’s willingness to entertain candidates outside the traditional party system. The Balochistan Awami Party managed to retain 5 seats, showcasing its continued relevance in the provincial politics despite the shifting voter preferences.

These results highlight a diversification in the political landscape of Balochistan. The voters have opted for a mix of regional and national parties, indicating a complex interplay of regional issues and broad national concerns shaping the electoral outcomes.

The election process was marred by allegations of massive result tampering. Some critics have argued that the unexpected victories of relatively unknown candidates suggest manipulation of results. Specific charged have been made against many returning officers who are accused of altering vote counts. These claims have fuelled widespread scepticism and unrest, indicating a crisis of confidence in electoral integrity. The situation has been aggravated by the absence of immediate and transparent investigations into these allegations, leaving the legitimacy of the election results in doubt and demanding urgent attention to restore public trust in the democratic process.

Some facts about the election results are very interesting. For instance, three members of the Gorgaij family have been elected on PPP tickets amid controversy. Malik Shah Gorgaij, the patriarch, has won NA-259 (Gwadar-Kech); his son Ubaid Gorgaij PB-44 (Quetta-VII), and another family member Abdul Samad Gorgaij PB-40 (Quetta-III). In all three constituencies, the Gorgaij family was previously unknown. This has raised questions and concerns about the circumstances under which their elections were won.

In a notable shift, 10 members of the Provincial Assembly have been elected under the banner of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl), none of them carrying the maulana title – a reference to religious learning and leadership – in their names. This diverse group comprises contractors, tribal elites and businessmen, among others, marking a departure from the party’s usual representation pattern. This development reflects that the JUI-F is no longer a party of religious clerics alone and has a more pragmatic political approach.

Significant protests have erupted against alleged rigging all over Balochistan. Some of the demonstrators have blocked major highways, disrupting traffic and drawing attention to their grievances. A coalition of four political parties – the Balochistan National Party, National Party, Hazara Democratic Party and Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party – has established a protest camp next to the deputy commissioner’s office in Quetta, signalling their resolve not to accept the election results without scrutiny. These actions underline the depth of discontent among sections of the population and the demand for a transparent review of the electoral process.

The controversy and allegations surrounding the 2024 Balochistan elections threaten to plunge the already turbulent province into political instability. The widespread protests and blockades, coupled with doubts over the legitimacy of elected representatives, forecast a period of continued unrest. With more protests expected to come, the politics will remain volatile.

The elected assembly faces the daunting challenge of establishing its legitimacy amidst widespread scepticism, casting a shadow over its ability to govern effectively and address the concerns of the constituents. It may not be in a position to make major decisions due to the legitimacy issues it will face since its inception.

The writer, a journalist based in Islamabad, is a contributing writer for Nikkei Asia. His X handle is @iAdnanAamir

A shaken politics