PESHAWAR, May 12: Living up to its reputation, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is again heading for a coalition government, triggering a race among parties to out-manoeuvre each other and gather partners.
As predicted, the results have been fractious though interesting, giving the major contenders a chance to have a shot at forming the provincial government.
But of all the parties, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf with a tally of 35 seats is in a stronger position to form the government. Independents, after the JUI-F and the PML-N, have emerged as the fourth largest group in the assembly and hold the key to the citadel in Peshawar.
From the look of it, if the PTI does make an effort to form the next government, it could look up to the independents and the seven Jamaat-i-Islami members. And the effort has begun in right earnest.
PTI’s secretary general and newly-elected MPA Pervez Khattak has moved into top gear for the job. An old campaigner, who under Aftab Sherpao’s tutelage had learned the skill of cobbling up alliances and out-manoeuvring rivals, he could become PTI’s first choice to head the coalition.
“There is no one else,” he said of himself as the party’s likely choice for the chief minister. “We are comfortably placed,” he told Dawn in the wee hours on Sunday morning, hours after the PTI had emerged as the largest party in the province. “The independents would come to us,” the PTI leader from Nowshera said.
And if need be, Khattak could also turn to his once-upon-a-time PPP leader, Aftab Sherpao, whose party has improved on its past performance and managed seven seats in the provincial assembly.
Another likely partner for the PTI could be the Awami Jamhuri Ittehad Pakistan -- a wealthy cigarette-manufacturing Swabi-based, family-owned party that has secured three seats.
Knowing Imran Khan’s tirade against the JUI-F, PML-N, ANP and PPP, the PTI is unlikely to turn to any of them for help.
Indeed, the numbers game is so tricky and so open to manipulation that a conglomeration of three or more parties could cause an upset and throw a spanner in the works of other contenders.
And who else can spoil the broth for the PTI but the wily Maulana from Dera Ismail Khan? The JUI-F leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, has already taken the initiative and spoken to PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif on the possibility of forming the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The JUI-F has secured 13 seats and is leading in another two whose results are awaited, which may raise its strength to 15. The PML-N has 12 seats. Fazlur Rehman can speak to Sherpao, with whom he had seat adjustment in Charasadda.
Maulana Fazl told reporters in Dera Ismail Khan that he had spoken to the PML-N chief and the two parties agreed to explore the possibility. “We can speak to Sherpao too.”
The PTI and the JUI-F have begun efforts to woo Mr Sherpao and it is learnt that JUI’s nominee for chief minister, former CM Akram Khan Durrani, was on his way to meet the former interior minister to mull over the issue.
And when it comes to realpolitik, Fazlur Rehman will have no qualms in aligning with either his former partner Jamaat-i-Islami, the ANP, PPP or retired Gen Pervez Musharraf’s lone MPA from Chitral.
So far, the PML-N leadership has not come up with any formal announcement in this regard. Its senior leader and former chief minister Sardar Mahtab Ahmad Khan said if he was asked for his opinion he would like to let the PTI form the provincial government.
“My personal opinion is: let the PTI form the government, implement its programme and show if it can serve as a role model for the rest of Pakistan,” the Sardar from Bakote said.
But in the final analysis, what may become the sole influencing and motivating factor for the political parties – except the PTI -- to support the JUI-F move would be the PML-N government in Islamabad and its equation and relationship with any government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.