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Voter maturity in Charsadda

April 22, 2013

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The birthplace of the non-violent Khudai Khidmatgar movement of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Charsadda has always played a significant role in Pakistan's politics but voter trends have tended to prove shifting and no single political party can lay claim to the lion's share of the vote bank. The area that comprises Charsadda district has produced such well-known personalities as Khan Abdul Wali Khan, Hayat Mohammed Khan Sherpao, Ghani Khan, Begum Nasim Wali Khan, Asfandyar Wali Khan, and Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao.

Begum Nasim Wali Khan became the first female political leader in the country’s parliamentary history to be elected to the National Assembly from Charsadda in the 1977 general elections. Many hold this fact out as an indication of the political maturity of the voters of this area.

The chief of the Awami National Party (ANP), the late Khan Abdul Wali Khan, was defeated here by joint PPP and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) candidate Maulana Hasan Jan in the 1990 general elections, which forced the veteran nationalist to quit electoral politics for good. His son, Asfandyar Wali Khan, also faced defeat in the 2002 general elections at the hands of Maulana Gohar Shah of the Mutahidda Majlis-i-Amal, an alliance of several religious parties. But the voters’ mood swung again during the 2008 elections and they gave a landslide mandate to the ANP.

Charsadda was declared a separate district in 1988; it has two National Assembly seats (Charsadda-I, NA-7 and Charsadda-II, NA-8) and six provincial assembly seats (PK-17 to PK-22).

For the coming elections, almost all the major political parties, including the PPP, the ANP, the Qaumi Watan Party (QWP), the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), have fielded candidates here.

ANP chief Asfandyar Wali is considered a strong candidate for NA-7, while QWP chief Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao is considered the favourite for NA-8. Other candidates for NA-7 include Maulana Gohar Rehman of the JUI-F, Arshad Khan of JI as well as others, while the ANP’s Taimur Khan and others are expected to present Aftab Sherpao a tough challenge in NA-8.

NA-7 comprises three provincial assembly constituencies including PK-17, PK-18 and PK-19, while NA-8 also comprises three provincial assembly constituencies: PK-20, PK-21 and PK-22.

In the 2008 general elections, the ANP swept the polls across the province and also bagged four provincial assembly seats from Charsadda, while the QWP (then the PPP-Sherpao) won two seats. Asfandyar Wali Khan won NA-7 while Aftab Sherpao bagged NA-8. The latter is the only political leader from this district to have never lost an election in his home constituency.

Aftab Sherpao’s QWP will contest general elections for the first time in its revamped form, hoping to cash in on voters’ nationalistic sentiments. He is presenting his party as the alternative to the ANP.

So far, political parties contesting in Charsadda have not agreed upon on a seat adjustment formula for the coming polls, which is likely to lead to a tough contest among the candidates. However, talks are continuing between different political parties and their local leaders to reach an agreement on this issue.

The prevailing threat factor and attacks on candidates affiliated with political forces that lay claim to secularism and liberalism may affect the turnout in the upcoming elections. The chiefs of two major political parties, the ANP’s Asfandyar Wali and the QWP’s Aftab Sherpao, belong to the same district and both leaders face potential threats that have compelled them to run very low-profile election campaigns. Asfandyar Wali and Aftab Sherpao have both have survived attacks and are now constrained to place heavy reliance on party workers to run their election campaigns. Already, ANP candidate and former special assistant to the chief minister Syed Masoom Shah has faced a roadside bombing in Charsadda. The inability of the parties on the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s hit-list to reach out to their voters is casting a dark shadow over the efforts of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold free and fair elections. The ECP’s objective might remain a distant goal unless a level-playing field in available to candidates belonging to all the political parties.

The PTI is a new entrant in the electoral politics of Charsadda district. It has fielded former district nazim Nasir Mohammed Khan for NA-8 to contest against Aftab Sherpao. The former’s father, Nisar Muhammad Khan Lala, was a federal minister who won the party-less elections from Charsadda in 1985. Now, his son is expected to present Sherpao a tough challenge.