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ALL eyes are set on the tough fight to be held on July 25 in National Assembly constituency NA 265 Quetta-II.

Political parties and independent candidness have started corner meetings and small rallies in Quetta, but little enthusiasm or flavour for the elections is witnessed on the part of the general public, as compared to previous polls.

“The cause of the lack of enthusiasm in electioneering is the doubt — prevailing from the very first day — about holding elections and them being fair and free,” says senior journalist Gulraz Khan. “It is because of the media, particularly the social media.”

However, senior analyst Zafarullah Kahn believes that the campaign could attain momentum in the coming days when the central leaders of different political parties come to Quetta to hold public meetings.

Political parties appear to be focussing on allegations of corruption against their rivals, rather than speaking about solutions for problems.

“The political parties that remained out of power for one or two terms exploit the weaknesses, financial scandals and inabilities of those parties who remained in power instead of talking about major issues,” comments Shahzada Zulfiqar, a senior analyst.

Under the new arrangements of delimitation, the provincial capital gets three national and nine provincial assembly seats.

Earlier, there were two NA constituencies — one comprised the main city area and its periphery, and the other of areas running from the south-west (Sariab Quetta) through 700km across the Noshki and Chagai districts up to the Iran border. The constituency’s population is 728,296 with total 32,0931 registered voters including 181,583 male and 139,348 female voters. It comprises three provincial assembly constituencies — PB 27, 28 and 29 (Quetta-4, -5 and -6 respectively) — having very diverse population of almost all ethnic/linguistic groups. The areas included in the constituency are Marriabad, Alamdar, Toghi, Queary and Patail roads, Satellite Town, Sirki Kalan, Pashtoonabad, Killi Alamo, Killi Shabo, Jinnah Town, Killi Kabir, Deba, Hudda, Railway Colony, Killi Shiekhan, Wahdat Colony, Brewery and Sabzal roads.

In 2013, both seats were clinched by the Pakhtun Milli Awami Party (PkMAP). Mehmood Khan Achakzai defeated Qasim Suri of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf with a lead of 22,545 votes. Another party nominee, the late Rahim Mandokhel, won with 30,338 votes while his immediate rival Manzoor Mengal of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl bagged 26,019 and Agha Hassan of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal stood third with 25,104 votes. However, after Mandokhel’s death in 2017, the party’s candidate Jamal Tarakai could hardly score 20,484 against JUI-F’s Usman Badini who bagged 44,898 while the runner-up Agha Hasan of the BNP-Mengal received 37,551 votes. It was the first time that the PkMAP had won a seat from the Baloch-dominated constituency of Quetta-Noshki-Chagai.

Mehmood Khan contested elections for the first time in 1993 from the provincial capital and won when it used to be one seat for whole Quetta and Chagai districts, with Punjabi-Urdu speaking voters and with active support of PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif. He defeated Sardar Fatah Mohammad Hasani of the Pakistan Peoples Party with an 8,000 lead. Although PkMAP has been taking part in the contest, it never won. In the 1997 elections, the PML-N put its own candidate Sardar Atif Sanjrani who won with 25,261 votes — beating all three main contenders Hafiz Hussain of the JUI-F (18,700 votes), Sardar Fatah of the PPP (17,473 votes) and Mehmood Khan Achakzai (14,187). In 2002, Mehmood Khan lost the seat again with a margin of around 5,000 votes to the late Maulvi Noor Mohammad of the JUI-F who polled 22,111 votes. Like other nationalist parties, he didn’t take part in the 2008 polls due to the boycott of the Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement when the country was under the Musharraf regime.

In the wake of delimitation, three constituencies have been carved out of old ones. Besides Mehmood Khan Achakzai, there are a number of prominent candidates in the field. They include BNP-Mengal’s Haji Lashkari Raisani, PTI’s Qasim Khan Suri and the MMA’s Hafiz Hamdullah; then there are the PML-N’s speaker of the Balochistan Assembly, the PPP’s former senator Rozi Khan Kakar, and the newly formed BAP’s Naseebullah Achakzai.

The PkMAP is facing serious challenges. Political observers say that the allotment of prime municipal corporation land in Quetta at throwaway prices in the names of party leaders and turning them into shopping malls also badly tarnished the party’s image.

Due to the mixed population of all ethnic groups, votes may be divided between the BAP, PTI, PPP, PML-N, PkMAP, MMA and BNP. Unlike the past, the BNP-Mengal is this time conducting more enthusiastic electioneering. The party has put up candidates from all over the province including Pakhtun areas. It also promotes the idea of the National Awami Party-led coalition government of calling Punjabi and Urdu speakers as locals instead of settlers.

Haji Lashkari Raisani, the BNP-Mengal candidate, known for taking all ethnic groups/minorities along, may bag votes from these communities. Raisani a former provincial minister and ex-senator reverted to nationalist politics after remaining 24 years in mainstream parties, mostly the PPP. He joined the BNP-Mengal last year, and to him goes the credit of defusing the situation between the BNP-Mengal and PkMAP over the recently conducted census.

The BNP, which has been out of power for the last 20 years, hopes to receive an encouraging response this time from the people. In his speeches and media talks, its head Sardar Akhtar Mengal who is contesting from three constituencies PA 40 Khuzdar III, NA 269 Khuzdar and NA 272 Lasbela-Gwadar, expresses his optimism for receiving a considerable number of seats enabling the party to join a future coalition government as strong partner.

The PML-N has fielded Raheela Hameed Durrani, former speaker of the Balochistan assembly. Analysts don’t consider her a strong candidate, but as one who joined the race on her own to get sympathy votes after the verdict against party leader Nawaz Sharif.

Qasim Suri of the PTI, belonging to a middle-class family, may bag votes from the fans of Imran Khan from a mixed population, mainly Punjabi-Urdu speaking and Pakhtun. The PTI has no strong base in Balochistan except small pockets in Quetta. Neither Imran Khan nor any central party leader has come so far in support of their party candidates.

Hafiz Hamdullah of the MMA has little chance of winning, but would serve as a vote-cutter among Baloch and certain Pakhtun ethnic groups.

Naseebullah Achakzai of the Balochistan Awami Party is a weak candidate. Jalal Khan Noorzai, a senior journalist and analyst, considers the election a “tough competition” between two nationalist and a religious party.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2018