PESHAWAR— Though Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) seems to gain majority of provincial assembly seats in tribal districts elections as all the opposition political parties are on solo flight for the polls slated for July 20. The PTI, however, likely to suffer from setback on some crucial seats where the party not only to face strong candidates but also facing challenge of rifts among the local leadership.
The ruling party is ahead of other political parties in the term of vote bank and popularity in the tribal districts. In the July 2018 general elections for the national assembly, PTI had secured six out of 12 seats whereas, JUI-F had secured three seats and remained runner up.
However, divisions and internal rifts likely to cause setback to the ruling political party just like the October 2018 by-elections in KP in which PTI had lost five seats out of nine which it had won in the general elections. The reason for PTI loss was mainly the presence of two or more than two PTI candidates contesting from the same constituency. The by-elections result data shows that PTI candidates contesting on party tickets or independent had secured more votes combined than the winning candidates.
The party is facing the same situation in the tribal districts’ elections, where on nine out of 16 seats of provincial assembly, more than two candidates are using the PTI slogans. And the party has great chances of winning elections here if united.
Political experts and observers say that infighting and more than one candidate of the party from these constituencies might dent the PTI’s prospects on few crucial seats, as warring between factions may help elections opponents
Bajaur has three provincial assembly seats and PTI has strong vote bank in the district. Interviews with the political experts and local journalists indicate that the ruling PTI is in the position to clean sweep the first ever polls for the provincial assembly seats in the district. However, presence of more than one candidate at two constituencies out of three has made the party chances of winning doubtful.
In PK-100, the PTI fielded Anwar Zeb Khan, who is the old face and fully supported and backed by the constituency leadership and party ticket seekers. He is facing the Jamaat-e-Islami candidate who has also great influence in the area. However, Anwar Zeb has chances of winning the July 20 elections as he has great support on ground.
On PK 101, PTI fielded its sitting MNA’s Gul Dad Khan’s brother Engineer Ajmal Khan. Another influential party leader Haji Sayed Ahmad Khan, who is the former deputy commissioner, is contesting as independent candidate under umbrella of Nazria Bachao Tehrik. He is very influential especially in Mamond tehsil of the district and observers believe his votes will give tough time to the PTI candidate.
It would be interesting face-off between Ajmal Khan and Haji Sayed Ahmad Khan, who are too old party leaders and among the influential figures of the constituency, says Shah Khalid Shahji, who is covering elections campaign in the district adding Syed Ahamd Khan’s ambitious is to defeat PTI candidate at any cost.
In PK-102 too, there are two PTI candidates contesting against each other. The party awarded ticket to Dr. Hanif-ur-Rehman whereas Haji Rahim Dad is contesting as independent.
Siraj-u-Din Khan of Jammat-e-Islami is considered as strong candidate in PK-102. Shah Khalid told Daily Times that a close contest is expected between the PTI and JI candidates in PK-102. However, the presence of the Rahim Dad making space for the JI candidate by cutting party votes.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mehmood Khan and Governor Shah Farman met both the rebel candidates, Haji Sayed Ahamd Khan from PK-101 and Haji Rahim Dad from PK-102, to withdraw in favor of the party candidates; however, they refused and adamant to contest elections.
Mohmand district, bordering with Afghanistan’s Kunar and Nangarhar provinces, has two constituencies PK-103 and PK-104.
At the movement, PTI is most popular in Mohmand district despite of setback from a key leader Dr Israr who is contesting as independent candidate from PK-104.
In PK-103, a neck to neck contest is expected between PTI candidate Qari Rahim Shah and ANP’s Nisar Mohmand. The independent candidate Khan Dad, who bagged more than 3,500 votes in general elections for the national assembly seat withdraw his nomination in favor of PTI. PTI has great chances to win the election from the constituency.
In PK- 104, all the political forces including PPP, ANP, PTI and JUI-F have so far fielded its candidates on provincial assembly seat. Amongst them PTI’s Sajjad Mohmand, JUI-F candidate Arif Haqqani, and independent candidate Abbas who is the brother of senator Hilal and ex-MNA Bilal are considered strong candidates but no one could underestimate Dr. Israr Safi who also enjoying tremendous support in Tehil Safi where more than 65000 voters are registered which is larger than any other tehsil.
PTI made last-minute changes and replaced Dr. Israr Safi with Sajjad Mohmand a day before filling nomination papers. PK-104 consists of four tehsils these include Halimzai, Baizai, Khwaizai and Safi tehils. Safi is the prominent figure in tehil safi while all the other prominent candidates belong to Mohmand tribe thus it makes a chance for Dr Israr Safi to give tough time to opponents especially party candidate and this may be a shock for the party supporters, said Alamgir Khan, a journalist belongs to Mohmand.
Another significant fight among PTI will be in district Khyber where Federal Minister for Religious Noorul Haq Qadari openly supporting an Independent candidate against party nominee at PK-105 Khyber, one of the three provincial assembly constituencies from the district.
PTI has awarded ticket to Shahid Shinwari, who is old party worker. Against party decision, Noorul Haq Qadari and his religious seminaries are openly supporting Sharmat Khan Afridi who has recently joined PTI and was an aspirant for the party ticket.
All the political parties except PML-N have fielded their candidates. However, according to Islam Gul Afridi – a senior journalist from the area – a close contest is expected between PTI candidate Shahid Shinwari, Qadri’s backed Sharmat Khan Afridi and independent candidate Shafique Sher, who has great influence in the area.
The Ruling party PTI has also suffered from division in PK-106 which consists on areas of Jamrud Tehsil and certain parts of Bara tehsil where Malik Din Khel and Qamar Khel tribes reside. However, Noorul Haq Qadri, who has great influence in the constituency is backing party candidate Ameer Khan in this constituency whereas party old guard and businessman Khan Sher, who contested the 2013 general elections on party ticket for national assembly and withdraw in favor of Noorurl Haq Qadri in 2018 general elections is contesting as independent candidate.
According to experts, PTI will face a very challenging contest from Bilawal, who is son of the former MNA Alhaj Shahjee Gul Afridi who was runner up in the last general elections for the national assembly seat. The JI candidate Shah Jahan is also considered strong candidate from the constituency.
The situation is not different in PK-107, where party has fielded a young and energetic leader Zubair Khan Afridi, who is also enjoying support of PTI MNA Iqbal Afridi. However, he also worried as Haji Shafique who joined party recently for the sack of party ticket is also contesting the polls as independent. The constituency consists on Valley Tirah and Barra Tehsil.
Islam Gul Afridi says, currently PK-107 looks like a contest too close between PTI candidate Zubair Khan and independent candidate Hameed Ullah Jan, who is an old politician and remained MNA, senator and federal minister.
The Kurram district is known for mixed sectarian population and remained a battlefield of sectarian hostilities for decades. Sectarian conflict was common in Kurram district before the advent of sectarian organizations, like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Muhammad, over intertribal issues. While the major sectarian clashes erupted along with the promotion of Jihadi elements in the neighboring Afghanistan and entry of Sunni Afghan refugees in the area backed in 1980s.
The district has two provincial assembly constituencies PK-108 and PK-109. PK-108 which fall under NA-45 has no representation in the National Assembly between 2013-2018 as ECP had postponed elections after a suicide bombing on an election rally of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) candidate and setting MNA Haji Munir Orakzai in Central Kurram on May 7, 2013 which left 28 people dead and 50 others injured.
PK-108 consists of the areas of Lower and Central Kurram and these areas are Sunni dominated where close contest is expected between PTI candidate Shahid Bangash, JUI-F Riaz Shaheed, and an independent candidate Malik Saif Ullah. However, PTI likely to face setback as its independent candidate has refused to withdraw in favor of party candidate Shahid Bangash, who is the former president of the party for tribal youth organization. Abdul Khaliq Pathan, who was also in race for party ticket is contesting elections as independent candidate and has a vote bank in Central Kurram whereas Shahid Bangash has great vote bank in Lower Kurram. JUI-F candidate Riaz Shaheed and an independent candidate are to benefit from the rift among PTI ranks.
PK-109 is consists of Upper Kurram which is Shia dominated area. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) candidate Sajid Hussain Turi had won national assembly seat from the constituency in last general elections. However, the observers believe that PPP is out of the contest this time as its setting MNA Sajid Hussain Turi is supporting an independent candidate Inayat Hussain. The competition is expected between Independents candidates Ibrar Jan, Inayat Hussain and PTI candidate Iqbal Main who secured 2nd position during general elections for the national assembly seat. Contrary to PK-108, PTI candidate Main Iqbal has an edge over other political parties as former IG Irshad Hussain, who secured third position in July 25 general elections as independent candidate is also backing him.
Orakzai district, the only tribal district doesn’t share boundary with Afghanistan, has a single seat for the provincial assembly. There are more than 20 candidates in the race. However, the main contenders are independent candidate Ghazan Jamal, son of the former parliamentarian Malik Saeed, and Shoaib Hassan, brother of the Jawad Hussain, who is the current MNA of PTI from the district.
Unlike the 2018 general elections, the scenario is a bit different as two PTI local leaders who were in race for party ticket are supporting Ghazan Jamal while Shaheed Orakzai is in the race as independent candidate. He is the brother of Senator Aurangzaib and has an influential figure of the area.
Shaheed Orakzai is expected to give tough time to the party leader and observers believe that Ghazan will be winner of the contest if party failed to unite its estranged leaders before the elections.
The militancy hit South Waziristan has two provincial assembly seats PK-113 and PK-114. Unlike PK-114, PTI is also divided in the PK-113 where the party influential candidate Brigadier retired Qayyum Sheer is contesting as independent as against party candidate Asfar Khan, who is considered a weak. The position of the JUIF candidate is considered strong and if PTI remained divided, the seat will definitely go to JUIF, said Naseer Azam, who is a local journalists covering elections.
PK-115 is the largest constituency area-wise that includes all FRs – FR Peshawar, FR Kohat, FR Bannu, FR Lakki Marwat, FR Dera Ismail Khan and FR Tank – which makes the constituency impossible to cover during elections campaign.
Keeping in view the previous general elections in which JUI-F candidate Mufti Abdul Shakoor had won the national assembly seat after close contest with PTI leader Qaisar Jamal.
This time, PTI has fielded Obaid-ur-Rehman whereas Haji Shoaib Akhtar is the contender of the JUI-F. The Awami National Assembly candidate Ghulam Qadar Bettani is also in position to give tough time to these two candidates. In the triangular contest, JUI-F candidate has maximum chances of winning, say local observers.
With the polls just around the corner, the party needs to unite and set aside their internal difference if it wants to take on opponents and take advantage of solo flights of opposition political parties in the elections, commented Aqeel Yousafzai, who is a political analyst.