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If investment in infrastructure development could win an election, the Awami National Party (ANP), which governed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province from 2008 to 2013, would not have faced such a crushing defeat in the 2013 general elections.

ANP’s then chief minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, who hails from Mardan, invested a large amount of money in his hometown and brought mega projects — universities, colleges, hospitals, roads and irrigation system — to the district. The heavy spending on infrastructure development also caused property prices in the area to shoot up. The development during the coalition government of the ANP and Pakistan Peoples Party changed the face of Mardan, the second largest city of the province after Peshawar, which houses 2.37 million people, according to Population Census Report, 2017.

Read more: Some surprises as PTI names election candidates from KP

Staunch rivals of the ANP acknowledged the development work carried out over the ANP and PPP’s five year tenure in the district.

There used to be one degree college for women in Mardan before 2013. During the ANP and PPP’s tenure, the district got two universities, a medical college, six degree colleges, including five for women; construction of a district headquarters hospital, a children’s hospital, two major by-pass roads (east and west), intra-city roads, high security prison and Baizai irrigation scheme, which were among the major projects completed in five years.

In total, the ANP government spent Rs55bn on infrastructure development in Mardan and Rs15bn in Charsadda, the home district of Hoti’s uncle Asfandyar Wali Khan, who heads the ANP. Yet the ANP lost the polls in Mardan in 2013, like it did in other districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The resounding defeat signified that development work was not the benchmark for winning elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

On the contrary, the popularity graph of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has risen in this area, even though the PTI-Jamaat-i-Islami coalition government did not undertake any significant development work in this area. The government remained unable to complete even ongoing projects during the last five years, which has annoyed the voters.

Mardan has three National Assembly and eight Provincial Assembly seats. In the 2013 general elections, the ANP bagged only one NA and two PAs seats. Ameer Haider Hoti was elected on an NA seat and a PA seat while the PTI won two NA and five PA seats from the district.

The PPP, which once had a strong vote bank in Mardan, was completely wiped out from the scene and could not win a single seat. The PPP used to be the largest political force after the ANP in the district at one point.

The ANP leaders attribute the party’s shocking defeat to the security situation at that time. The party had lost around 1,000 workers, leaders and lawmakers in targeted killings and bomb blasts while its top leaders had narrowly escaped suicide attacks. The party received frequents threats from militant outfits, forcing the ANP to abandon its campaign.

Syed Alam Baba, security in-charge of the ANP, says that the party had organised only three corner meetings in Mardan in 2013. “The district administration and police issued a threat alert and warned Haider Khan that you will be responsible if any untoward event happened,” said Baba.

Political Analyst Professor Dr Fazal ur Rahim Marwat said political ideology notwithstanding, the manifestos and development works of the political parties reflect a lack of democratic norms and value in society. “It shows that democratic culture has not flourished and people are still mentally enslaved and undemocratic values overshadow political culture,” Dr Marwat said.

At present, two candidates have been dominating the politics of Mardan — Ameer Haider and former education minister Muhammad Atif Khan. Ameer Haider is known for his focus on building infrastructure and party workers call him a true follower of Bacha Khan. Muhammad Atif of the PTI is given credit for controlling social crime in the area and observing merit in appointments.

“Ameer Haider has revived the tradition of Bacha Khan, who used to visit hujras and interact with workers,” said Syed Alam Baba.

Mardan is bracing for a major electoral battle with strong contestants from three major political parties, including two that have been in power in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in recent years.

A fierce contest between political heavyweights Ameer Haider Hoti and Muhammad Atif, the education minister under the PTI from 2013 to 2018 — alongside Khwaja Mohammad Hoti from the PPP and Maulana Qasim of Mutahidda Majlis-i-Amal — makes the race for NA 19, 20 and 21 an exciting prospect for these parties, as well as for election observers.

Haider Hoti, Muhammad Atif and Khwaja Hoti are contesting for the provincial assembly seats and they, too, have eyes on the coveted post of chief minister. Khwaja Hoti, who is known for frequently changing political loyalty, had won an NA seat on the ANP ticket in 2008. He was the PML-N’s candidate in 2013 and bagged 32,090 votes and stood third on NA-9, Mardan-I.

The revival of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal and the ANP may give the PTI trouble in Mardan and change the polling results. There is a possibility of seat adjustment between ANP and MMA on a few seats to counter the PTI.

Analysts say that the PTI’s victory in the 2013 polls was unanticipated, and without much homework. They say that this time around the PTI is going into election with full preparations and is running a very aggressive campaign. The party has a strong social media team that vigorously disseminates the party’s material. The ANP is following the PTI model for running its election campaign.

American humorist Evan Esar said: “In elections, the undecided vote is usually the deciding factor.” It is expected that the neutral vote and 263,642 newly registered voters will decide the fate of candidates in Mardan on July 25.

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2018