The weather in Quetta is cloudy and pleasant as the country prepares for its 11th general elections. But unlike the balmy atmospheric conditions, the political climate here is charged and heated. Most people living in Quetta have left for their villages and towns in the interior of the province so they can exercise their right to franchise.
The voter turnout in the province in 2013 was at a historic low, especially in districts hit hard by militancy. In Awaran district, for example, former chief minister Abdul Quddus Bizenjo won in his constituency by bagging only 544 votes, and Ali Haider Mohammad Hassani of the National Party received 95 votes.
At the time, the running joke was that Hassani had declared the elections in Awaran rigged because he had more personal bodyguards than he had votes.
However, other than sporadic attacks on security forces and election candidates, the situation in Awaran is considered to have improved. Following the recent delimitation, the two seats of Panjgur district have been shortened to one, and a part of Panjgur has been added to the Awaran constituency.
Journalist Rashid Baloch says there are 16 candidates contesting here. Khair Jan Baloch of the NP has been gathering large crowds in the Jhao tehsil of Awaran. However, Awaran’s rural side is still dominated by the ultra-nationalists and it is said that people will mostly cast their votes in the cities falling in Awaran district.
Interviews with political analysts suggest there is a tough competition between Sardar Aslam Mirwani of Balochistan National Party-Mengal and Khair Jan Baloch of NP, and Quddus Bizenjo of Balochistan Awami Party in PB-44. If anyone of them gets around 1,500 to 2,000 votes, they have a chance to emerge victorious.
Former home minister Sarfaraz Bugti has been quite popular on social media after videos showing him travelling on camels and motorbikes in the Dera Bugti constituency of PB-10 became popular. His rival candidate is his first cousin Tariq Masoori Bugti, son of former minister Ali Ahmad Bugti. In the tribal hierarchy of Bugtis, Masooris come in second after Nawab Akbar Bugti’s sub tribe.
Nawabzada Gohram Bugti is also poised to do well. According to some accounts, he has not left Dera Bugti in the last three or four years, and is said to have revived his grandfather Nawab Akbar Bugti’s fort there.
He has reportedly attended state functions organised on August 14, March 23 and December 6, to solidify his patriotic credentials. He could pose a bigger challenge to Sarfaraz, who has accused him of supporting anti-state elements, if he comes to power.
In the PB-9 constituency of Kohlu district, Changez Khan Marri and Gazain Khan Marri have been giving each other a run for their money. The caretaker government of Balochistan stopped Gazain Marri in Sibi, while he was on his way to Kohlu, and later his house in Kohlu was declared a sub-jail despite high court orders.
After raising hue and cry on social media, he has finally been allowed to start his electoral campaign. He’s fighting on the same seat as his elder brother Changez Marri, who is said to be more suited to armchair politics. In his previous tenure as a minister, he did not visit his office for a single day.
Instead, he would sign official papers while staying home in Karachi.
Ever since the arrival of Gazain Marri, though, he has become active. He has accused Gazain of supporting anti-state elements and says that he will regroup Baloch militants because he had stayed in Dubai for almost two decades in a self-imposed exile. On the other hand, Gazain denies these claims. In between the two competing brothers, former mayor of Kohlu Naseebullah Marri may scrape a victory. He enjoys good ties with the Marri family. In 2013 elections, Changez Marri had received 5,087 votes, while Naseebullah got 2,418 votes.
In PB-8 (Barkhan), Sardar Abdul Rehman Ketran is a known bully of this constituency. His house was declared a sub-jail for four and a half years after he was implicated in cases involving weapons. He was also accused of abducting an SHO.
Locals say that he would ask shopkeepers to close the bazaar early and liked making everyone in Barkhan follow his own laws and rules. After the National Accountability Bureau declared him ineligible to contest the elections, his wife Nasrin Ketran decided to contest the polls. The shops in Barkhan, however, no longer follow his rules. Karim Ketran of the NP is said to have gained ground in the area. When Dr Malik was chief minister, he was given lots of funds, which may help consolidate his victory in the area.
Even though Abdul Rehman Ketran was with the JUI-F, he is now contesting as an independent candidate. He is under pressure, which is why he asked for his rival Tariq Ketran’s help, his cousin, who is contesting on the national assembly seat. People seem disillusioned with him though.
In northern Balochistan dominated by Pashtuns, in the PB-3 Killa Saifullah district, Maulana Abdul Waseh was not given a ticket to contest the polls from PB-3 by the JUI-F even though he approached his provincial chief Abdul Ghafoor Haider and party chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman. Instead, he was asked to contest on national assembly seat. Instead of him, Maulana Noor Ullah of MMA, who is his rival, has been given a ticket.
Despite being a part of the MMA alliance, Maulana Waseh has been urging people not to vote for Noor Ullah. He has also asked PkMAP leader Nawab Ayaz Khan Jogezai, who always loses from the Killa Saifullah constituency, to contest the elections in PB-3. He had promised to give him his tacit support.
In previous elections, Maulana Waseh had received 18,297 votes, while Maulana Noor Ullah’s votes were 14,383. As for PkMAP’s leader Usman Kakar, he had received 12,421 votes. It will be interesting to look out for whether Maulana Waseh can help PkMAP leader Ayaz Jogezi secretly win against Maulana Noor Ullah on the MMA ticket.
Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2018