Maulana Fazl-ur-Rahman of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F failed to bring down the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan but he impressed everybody with his massive show at Islamabad. He is being touted as the “real leader” of all opposition parties and some circles have also pinned hopes on him for the revival of religious politics.
It is a fact that Maulana Fazl’s sit-in at Islamabad was the biggest in the recent history of dharnas. It was also appreciable that the huge crowd was disciplined and law-abiding. The religious activists did not leave the designated place of dharna to create trouble for the common people. Maulana Fazl should also be credited for not using the huge crowd to create disturbance in the capital, which could have sent wrong signals to the world. He quietly left the capital after threatening the government with Plan A, B and C. His astonishingly harsh tone made some ministers nervous. He also succeeded in creating rifts among coalition partners.
Despite his heroics, the political future of religious parties is still uncertain. The parties faced a humiliating defeat in the general election at national and provincial levels, with all their top leaders biting the dust. They lost even in their strongholds in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa and Balochistan at the hand of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and other parties. New groups have emerged in urban areas of the country but they are not in a position to play an active role in national politics.
The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of five major religious parties of all schools of thought, suffered a crushing defeat in the election on both national and provincial assembly constituencies. The alliance could not secure even a single seat in the national and provincial assembly in majority of districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa, its home province. Chitral was the only district where the alliance candidates produced hundred percent results. The district has only one seat each in the national and provincial assemblies – NA-1 and PK-1. On NA-1, Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali was victorious with 48,616 votes. He was followed by Abdul Latif of the PTI with 38,481 votes. In Swat, the alliance failed to win any of the three national and nine provincial assembly seats.
In Upper Dir, which has been a stronghold of the Jamaat-i-Islami, only Inayatullah Khan, a former senior minister, could retain his seat out of the three provincial assembly constituencies. The remaining two constituencies were won by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) candidates. In Lower Dir, another stronghold of the JI, the alliance failed badly as none of its candidates could make it to the national or provincial assembly on the two National Assembly and five provincial assembly seats. In Malakand district, the situation was the same. The lone National Assembly and two provincial seats were won by the PTI. In Buner and Shangla, none of the candidates of the alliance could secure victory. In Kohistan, the alliance’s candidate Afareen Khan won a provincial assembly seat. In Battagram, Mansehra, Abbottabad and Haripur, the alliance could not win even a single seat. In central districts, including Swabi, Mardan, Charsadda, Nowshera and Peshawar, it failed miserably. In the southern districts, the MMA managed to win a few seats of national and provincial assembly.
On NA 36, Lakki Marwat, MMA’s Mohammad Anwar Khan carried the day. On NA-37, Tank, Asad Mahmood, son of Maulana Fazlur Rahman, won. For the provincial assembly, Shahdad Khan of the alliance emerged victorious on PK-81, Kohat. Akram Khan Durrani, who lost his National Assembly seat to PTI Chairman Imran Khan, won PK-90, Bannu, by a thin margin. On PK-93 Lakki-1, Anwar Hayat Khan of the MMA secured 17,114 ballots against 16,342 of his rival Tariq Saeed of the PTI and was declared the winner. On PK-94 Lakki-2, Mahmood Ahmad of the MMA secured victory with 27,651 ballots. Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s younger brother Maulana Lutfur Rahman also won his seat, PK-98, Dera Ismail Khan.
Other than Khyber Pakhtunkhawa, it was Balochistan where the MMA was expected to perform well but a newly formed Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) emerged victorious in most Balochistan Assembly seats. The MMA and the Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal) won nine and seven provincial assembly seats respectively. Both parties managed to bag five National Assembly seats each from the province. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) managed to win only one seat, which Nawab Sanaullah Khan Zehri — a former chief minister of Balochistan — brought home. He won in his native constituency defeating his half-brother Mir Israrullah Zehri, president of the Balochistan National Party-Awami. Balochistan National Party (BNP) and Pakhtunkhawa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), which were partners in the last coalition government, failed to win a seat in the NA. PkMAP, however, won one provincial seat, with Nasrullah Zeray taking his constituency. JUI-F Secretary General Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, who was contesting for the provincial assembly, lost the election. However, the MMA won five NA seats from Quetta, Pishin, Loralai and Qila Abdullah districts. Its archrival, the PTI, succeeded in winning three national and three provincial assembly seats in the province.
MMA head Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who is Ameer of his own faction of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), failed to win any of the two constituencies in his native district, Dera Ismail Khan. On NA-38, he suffered defeat by a huge margin of 34,879 ballots at the hands of Ali Amin Gandapur of the PTI. He could bag 45,357 votes only against 80,236 of Ali Amin Gandapur. On NA-39, he was defeated by Yaqub Shaikh of the PTI, who obtained 5,511 votes against 4,076 of Maulana Dafl. Jamaat-e-Islami chief and vice-president of the MMA, Sirajul Haq, suffered defeat in his native Dir Lower district. He, too, was defeated by PTI candidate Mohammad Bashir Khan. It was also a big margin as the JI head could get 46,040 votes only while his rival Mohammad Bashir Khan secured 63,017.
Before the election, the MMA had created an impression that it was going to rule Khyber Pakhtunkhawa and Balochistan and would play a major role at national level, when it fielded candidates for 191 National Assembly constituencies and 404 constituencies of the four provincial assemblies, including 35 woman candidates, on general seats. The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a recently formed political organisation of radical Barelvis that highlighted the blasphemy issue across the country, won two Sindh Assembly seats from Karachi in the election. It also bagged thousands of votes in many constituencies in urban areas of Pakistan. However, it may not be able to repeat the performance in the next election.
The election results show that the religious parties are finding it hard to meet the present-day challenges in politics and their back-to-back defeats in the last two elections have raised serious questions over their capacity to attract voters. Their popularity is declining because they are stuck in status quo politics. MMA chief Fazlur Rehman is a prime example of opportunism. He joins every government for personal gains but fails to deliver for the people. He vacated the Ministers’ Enclave after 13 years only after his defeat in the election. He enjoyed perks of a federal minister for 13 years as Kashmir Committee chairman.
The recent elections have deprived the religious parties of their nuisance value and analysts believe it will benefit national politics and the people of Pakistan.