IS Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the province which has never returned the same party in consecutive elections, about to turn a corner and make history?
Will it bring the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf back to power or will it, like it has done before, just shrug it off and move on to try a new political configuration?
Broadly speaking, there seems to be a three-way contest pitting the PTI against the MMA, on the one hand, and against the ANP on the other. The PPP and the PML-N seem trailing far behind to vie for the fourth and fifth positions.
Therefore, we may not see the wave that had brought the MMA, the ANP and the PTI to power, but it looks like KP is not yet prepared to turn its back on the party that ruled it for five years, promising ‘change’ that its detractors continue to claim only existed on the worldwide web.
One thing, however, is debatable no more. The PTI is a political force in KP now. A party that was non-existent on the electoral scene in 2008 barged its way into the KP Assembly in 2013 with a thumping majority.
The July 25 polls may not be much different. All estimates suggest that the Kaptaan’s (Imran Khan’s) party may retain its lead, though not necessarily with the same margin. His party may emerge as the single largest group in KP, followed by the ANP and the MMA.
But it’s no easy sailing. Out of the total 99 KP Assembly seats up for grab, there are 21 constituencies where the outcome is so unpredictable that it could tip the balance anywhere.
Two constituencies have fallen vacant due to the death of Haroon Bilour and Ikramullah Gandapur in suicide bombings in Peshawar and Dera Ismail Khan Of the remaining, the PTI could be seen leading in 20 constituencies, followed by the ANP in 13 and the MMA in 11. The PML-N and the PPP both are leading in four constituencies each.
The Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) of Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao seems to be ahead in two constituencies. Five independent candidates are leading in their constituencies.
In the 21 constituencies where there is no clear winner, the majority of the electoral battles are being fought between the PTI and MMA, MMA and the ANP, the PTI versus the ANP and PTI versus the PPP.
The guesstimate is that the PTI may end up winning around 30 seats and the MMA and ANP both may win somewhere between 15 and 20 seats each. The PPP should also be able to improve its tally by a reasonably good number, while the PML-N should be able to retain the seats it had won in 2013.
If things go as predicted, it could be an interesting scenario. Considering what may emerge, the PTI may find itself in a tight spot, even if it gets a majority in KP.
If one rules out the PPP and the PML-N and, by extension, the MMA too, of which the JUI-F is a senior partner, the only other party left to cobble up a coalition would be the ANP and the five to eight independents.
Turn around the scenario, the erstwhile opposition and anti-PTI parties, the MMA, the PPP, the N-League and the ANP would be all too happy and comfortable to join a government in KP to deny the PTI the opportunity to return to power.
It is, however, the NA contest in KP that the PTI leadership would be focusing much, and banking much, on. And according to Dawn’s own public perception survey, the PTI may not be disappointed with the results.
Considering that the electoral battle in 26 constituencies is too close to call, the PTI may still emerge as the single largest party from KP. It is expected to lead in seven constituencies, followed closely by the MMA. Other parties are likely to end up far behind.
The PTI, according to observers, may win close to 20 seats, compared with its 19 seats in 2013. The MMA tally may be anywhere close to 15, followed by the PML-N, the PPP and the ANP.
Thus, the election results may not disappoint the PTI, considering that it is in a three-way, and in some constituencies a four- way, contest with the MMA, the ANP and the PPP. Its main rival remains the religious alliance.
The JUI and the JI had contested the 2013 elections under their own party banner and symbols and had won 13 and seven seats respectively. This time they have joined forces.
Based on the 2013 results, had the two parties contested the elections jointly, they would have won 12 more seats, ending up with a tally of 32 seats. History, thus, would have been different had the MMA existed in 2013 as the PTI would have ended up losing 12 seats.
The elections are still going to be closely contested. There are a little over three million new registered voters. Except for some large public meetings, the election fever has surprisingly been missing.
In the final analysis, it would be the party that is able to pull the highest number of voters from their homes would most likely succeed at the hustings.
Published in Dawn, July 24th, 2018