FeaturedNationalVOLUME 14 ISSUE # 24

Lessons from tribal polls

Independent candidates dominated the historic elections in seven tribal districts of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) by securing six of 16 general seats. The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), which was expected to post a landslide victory, bagged only five constituencies while two main opposition parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), failed to win a single seat.


The Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) won three seats, whereas the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) secured one seat each. A major regional force, the Qaumi Watan Party (QWT), also failed miserably. The election result will not change the dominance of the PTI in the provincial assembly but it comes as a shock to the ruling party, which was better placed to win most seats for being in power in the province and the Centre. In fact, the party had no competition with other parties after it had launched development projects in the region and people had no other choice but to vote for it to resolve their issues. The success of the independents and religious parties will force it to review its policies in the province. It could be an eye-opener for it before the next general election.


Contrary to estimates, the overall turnout remained 26.22pc as out of total 2.81 million voters, 735,920 exercised their right. Over 71.37pc men cast their votes against 28.62pc women. The overall turnout of male and female voters remained 31.42pc and 18.63pc, respectively. Of the 1.671 million registered male voters, 525,154 men cast their votes, while 210,626 of the total 1.13 million registered female voters exercised their right. The lowest turnout (16.14pc) was recorded in PK-113 South Waziristan-I, where 35,318 of total 218,835 voters cast votes. Similarly, 17.50pc turned out to vote in PK-107, Khyber-III. The highest percentage of votes polled was in PK-109 Kurram-II, where 75,308 of the total 187,844 votes (40.10pc) were cast. The percentage of female voters also remained high in the constituency as 33,536 female voters (44.5pc) cast votes against 41,772 (55.4pc) votes cast by male voters.


Going against tribal norms, two women also contested the election. Naheed Afridi of the Awami National Party (ANP) ran for the conservative Khyber district’s constituency of PK 106. Malasa Bibi was fielded by the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) for PK-109 in the Kurram district. However, both women lost the contest to their male rivals. A member of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), who was running as an independent, won in PK-112 (North Waziristan-II) by defeating a JUI-F candidate.


According to observers, the ruling party could not repeat its performance of the general election because of internal rifts and poor selection of candidates. The PTI had won six out of 12 National Assembly seats in the tribal districts in the July 25, 2018 polls. It had won two National Assembly seats from Bajaur, one from Mohmand, two from Khyber and one from Orakzai. Analysts say merit was violated in the allotment of tickets for the provincial assembly polls and the party had to suffer. The PTI was completely routed in Khyber and lost all three provincial assembly seats as independents won. Rivals also humiliated the PTI in Mohmand and Orakzai tribal districts and it could not win a single seat there.


In some constituencies, disgruntled PTI workers contested against party candidates that divided its vote bank. Internal differences benefited rival candidates, especially the independents, who secured five seats. PTI activists blame the four-member parliamentary board for the bad performance of the party in the elections. The board consisted of Governor Shah Farman, Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, Federal Minister for Religious Affair Noorul Haq Qadri and PTI General Secretary Arshed Dad.


The PTI was expecting to win at least 11 seats, but wrong decisions in the allotment of tickets restricted it to only five seats. However, the party is satisfied that its vote bank is intact and its two rival political parties, the PPP and the PML-N, were rejected by tribal people because of their alleged corruption. The ANP, which is also a major force in the region, could bag only one seat.


The historic election in the areas, which were embroiled in conflict for almost two decades, remained peaceful and free from any major controversy over the quality of the electoral process, says a report released by the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN). However, it observed the election did not yield a turnout that was expected, which remained lower by 6.3pc in comparison to the turnout for the National Assembly seats on July 25 last year. Partly due to warm weather that discouraged people from going out of their homes in the afternoon in some constituencies, the reason for the low turnout may also be attributed to an increase in the number of total voters registered in the districts by 285,976 in June. If the turnout is calculated on the basis of the registered voters before the addition, it remained almost the same as it was on July 25, 2018. A gender disaggregation of the turnout suggests almost 20pc of women voters turned out to vote as compared to 23.8pc on July 25, last year. Similarly, around 33pc of male voters voted in the election as compared to 40.3pc in the last general election.


According to observers, it is a great achievement for Pakistan to hold elections in the tribal region, which was under the control of Taliban militants until few years ago. Foreign media would report the militants were just 40 miles away from Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. Irrespective of loss and win in the election, it is a great victory for Pakistan and people of the region.