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Fear rules Lasbela district

May 11, 2013

HUB, May 10: Amid the hustle bustle of daily life, a different kind of business has emerged along the main road in Hub city: election campaigning, though it’s surprisingly low-key.

Fear rules the electioneering in Balochistan’s Lasbela district that has one National Assembly (NA-270) and two provincial assembly (PB-44 and PB-45) seats. In a district where literacy rate is 20.26 per cent, security remains a challenge for even the heavyweights.

“It’s a tough task but we stand firm,” says Mohammad Ibrahim Doda, the campaign head of Mohammad Saleh Bhootani — tipped favourite for PB-45 and chief of the Bhootani tribe. He is contesting as an independent candidate with the stag as his electoral symbol.

Sitting amidst dozens of people at his roadside office in Hub city, Mr Doda finds this the safest way to address voters; rallies, corner meetings and face-to-face meetings are no longer part of electioneering in Balochistan. “Still, I can say that in this constituency there is no election as such, since Bhootani Sahib is winning for sure,” he adds. “Among other factors, we have also the support of the PPP and the National Party for this particular seat.”

Having boycotted the 2008 elections, Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) is also in the fight this time. It has been detached from the country’s politics for more than five years. With low chances of winning any of the three seats in the district, BNP-M leaders face high risk: the elections were rejected by the province’s proscribed militant groups as a tool deployed by the central government to suppress the voice of the Baloch people.

“Only Tuesday night, while we were campaigning in Uthal and the neighbouring town for our NA-270 candidate Mohammad Qasim Ronjho, we were asked by the area’s people to leave after they saw the number of cars following us,” says Engineer Saeed Mengal, general secretary of BNP-M Lasbela. “We are under serious threat following our decision to contest polls.

Our workers receive threatening calls every day and are intercepted while on the campaign trail. Meanwhile, rival candidates that are influential and the chiefs of tribes are busy rigging the polls. A number of our voters were deliberately not listed in their strongholds.”

Sardar Mengal and his men say they are up to the task, even though the election office of the PPP just yards from his setup is closed after a firecracker attack earlier this week. The National Assembly constituency encompasses Awaran and Lasbela districts which include Hub, Bela, Uthal, Winder and Gadani. Jam Mir Kamal Khan is seen as the victorious man for sure. After becoming the 37th Jam of Lasbela in February following the death of his father, former Balochistan chief minister Jam Mir Mohammad Yousuf, Jam Kamal is not expected to be given a tough time by his rivals, including the PPP candidate and the Bhootani-backed Ghulam Akbar Lasi. Even without an active campaign in a constituency with more than 102,515 registered votes, he enjoys influence as a former district nazim with a royal family background. The ‘Prince of Lasbela’ is also contesting for the two provincial assembly seats.

“Results may vary in parts of Balochistan,” says Siddiqi Baloch, a senior journalist. “But one factor is common from Hub to Zhob: fear. Lasbela is comparatively less disturbed compared to other parts of the province. I don’t think party politics matter here, though. The Bhootanis will dominate the Hub constituency for the provincial assembly seats and the Jams will make it to the National Assembly.” Mr Baloch says that Aslam Bhootani, former speaker of the Balochsitan Assembly and the younger brother of PB-45 candidate Mohammad Saleh Bhootani, contributed to development during the past five years that led to new educational institutions in Hub and infrastructure projects. “There has always been triangular electoral fight in this district between the Jams, the Bhootanis and the Mengals,” he adds. “If elected, the Bhootanis are expected to align themselves with the PPP.”