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Taliban in a northwestern Pakistani town. — Photo by AP/File

PESHAWAR, April 12: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s volatile security environment poses a threatening challenge to political parties contesting the upcoming general elections.

With only about a month left before the May 11 elections, candidates and party workers have got a massive risky job at hands to contact voters and seek their support before and on the polling day.

The grassroots party workers have always been crucial to their respective party’s success in the previous elections. This time round, the workers’ significance has grown manifold.

They can play an important role in spearheading their respective party’s pre-poll campaign, avoiding risks to the party leaders and supporters.

Though several of the political parties have fielded wealthy candidates in many Khyber Pakhtunkhwa districts in their apparent strategy to win the elections, this has not diminished the diehard party workers’ significance in making things happen even for their wealthy poll contenders.

They would hold the key to reach out to voters without compromising security and protection of their respective party’s electorates.

Undoubtedly, no political party can afford to lose voters by rendering them to situations where the electorates select to stay away from the polling stations. Threats from miscreants are too real and have the potential to scare away voters.

Given the current insecurity in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, political parties are apparently jittery to hold big public meetings. Such meetings have been an important canvassing technique in the political parties’ pre-poll mass contact strategy.

The well-attended party meetings are considered important. They serve the party leaders to explain their policies and programs to people gathered at one place. Besides, such events bolster political parties’ public image and galvanize their diehard workers, boosting their confidence and bringing them swing voters.

However, this time round, political parties are apparently hesitant to go for this option in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They have already been foretold to exercise caution in conducting their election campaigns as the provincial police cannot ensure 100 per cent security during their public meetings.

The provincial police’s position is understandable. The monster of militancy has grown so big and troubling that a civilian law enforcement agency, like the KP police that is struggling with efficiency and training issues, cannot provide answers to the people’s security woes.

However, the essence of democracy is in holding a free and fair election. This fundamental requirement cannot be ensured without providing a level playing field to all the political parties in the run up to the elections day.

Candidates and supporters of Awami National Party and Pakistan People’s Party are exposed to some real threats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and elsewhere at the hands of militants as was expected. The two parties are disadvantageously positioned as they do not have a carefree freedom to conduct canvassing at a time when, among all the political forces in the country, they need it the most based on their unimpressive stint in power for five years.

The threats to the current electoral process, particularly, the liberal political forces have not come as a surprise. The risks were imminent and anticipated since long.

What is ironic is the fact that political parties, particularly the most threatened ones, did not do much and evolve strategies in advance for carrying out electioneering without yielding to miscreants’ threats under the existing difficult situation.

Extraordinary situations require extraordinary responses. ANP and PPP have got quite a few options to carry out their election campaigns without exposing their supporters to the militants’ attacks. There is a need to prefer innovation over traditional means of spreading party programs.

In place of holding general public meetings in major urban centers, political parties can utilise electronic and social media to their maximum advantage. In this respect, political talk shows aired in dozens by television news channels 24/7 provide a free of cost opportunity to the parties to put their message across through airwaves to their electorates.

Some political parties have already made best use of such talk shows, satisfying their appetite for making speeches at public meetings.

Political parties with sufficient funds at their disposal can also buy airtime on major television network to take their message to the masses instead of holding public meetings. Similarly, they can make campaign ads to spread their message without exposing their electorates to the dangers posed by militants’ brutal and cruel attacks.

They can create acceptance for their vibrant political ideas by making use of the social media as well. Some parties have already been using Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Tumblr, emails and other similar options to conduct their pre-poll campaigns.

They can evolve separate strategies to access their electorates in the urban and rural areas, without compromising their public appeal in the current difficult times in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The threat is real, but it is not too acute to give up.

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