PESHAWAR: The stage is set for the historic provincial assembly elections in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with interesting contests expected between candidates of major political parties and independents, including some former lawmakers, on 16 general seats.

The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has fielded candidates on all the general seats whereas the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F), Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan Peoples Party have fielded 15, 14 and 13 candidates, respectively.

Similarly, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) has fielded five candidates, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) 13 and Quami Watan Party three, while 202 independents are also in the contest for which polling will be held on July 20.

Observers believe PTI and JUI-F may grab more seats than other parties in July 20 elections

Some observers believe that the PTI and JUI-F are likely to grab more seats than other parties, whereas in a few constituencies independent candidates are having an edge over others.

The JI and JUI-F had contested the July 25, 2018 general elections from the platform of Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), but the two major partners of the religious alliance stand apart in the present elections. The JI is contesting the polls under the symbol of ‘scale’ while the JUI-F has been allotted ‘book’. The division between the two allies can split their votes.

Encouraging aspect is that two women are also contesting the elections on general seats — political and social activist Naheed Afridi from PK-106 (Khyber) on an ANP ticket and Ms Malasa from PK-108 (Kurram) on a JI ticket.

A total of 2.80 million voters — 1.67m men and 1.13m women — will exercise their franchise on July 20. Of the 1,896 polling stations, 482 are for men, 376 for women and 1,038 combined.

Reports suggest that tough contest is expected among the PTI, JUI-F, PPP, ANP, JI, PML-N and some independents. The ruling PTI is stated to have an edge over its rivals in some constituencies, especially in Bajaur, Mohmand and Kurram.

While electioneering remained in full swing in tribal districts, the situation in North and South Waziristan was different due to restrictions placed on public meetings and gatherings by the administration. Only a few days ago when the Election Commission of Pakistan took notice of the matter, the administration had lifted Section 144 of CrPC in the two districts.

Former parliamentarians are also trying their luck. Former MNA Sahibzada Haroon Rashid, who was elected from Bajaur in 2002 on an MMA ticket, is contesting for the PK-101 (Bajaur-II) seat.

Former senator and MNA Hameedullah Jan Afridi is contesting as an independent candidate from PK-107 (Khyber-III). He was one of the staunch opponents of the merger of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and had formed an alliance against the merger.

A close contest is expected among Anwar Zeb of the PTI, Gul Afzal of the ANP and Israruddin Khan, son of former MNA Shahabuddin Khan, of the PML-N in PK-100 (Bajaur-I). In PK-101 (Bajaur-II), a tough contest is likely among Engineer Ajmal Khan, brother of sitting MNA Gul Dad Khan, of the PTI, Lali Shah of the ANP, Anees Khan of the PPP and Nizamuddin Khan of the PML-N.

In PK-102 (Bajaur-III), Sirajuddin Khan of the JI is considered strong. He is facing Khalid Khan, an independent candidate, and Hameed Rehman of the PTI.

ANP’s Nisar Mohmand, a three-time contestant of the National Assembly, is facing Rahim Shah of the PTI and Mohammad Arshad of the PPP in PK-103 (Mohmand-II). Nisar had secured 13,000 votes in the previous general election.

Close contest is expected among Mohammad Arif Haqqani of the JUI-F, Sajjad Mohmand of the PTI and Abbas Rehman, an independent candidate, in PK-104 (Mohmand-II).

With a visible rift among the ranks of PTI workers and organisational weaknesses of other competing parties in PK-105 (Khyber-I), it is speculated that the main contest would be between two independent candidates — Shermat Khan, a PTI renegade, and Al Haj Shafeeq Afridi.

In PK-106 (Khyber-II), two wealthy independent candidates — Al Haj Bilawal Afridi, son of former MNA Shah Jee Gul Afridi, and Khan Shed — are pitted against each other, with the later being denied the PTI ticket.

A close contest is expected between PTI’s young candidate Zubair Afridi and former independent MNA Hameedullah Jan in PK-107 (Khyber-III). Both are heavily banking on their tribal affiliations, with the former belonging to Shalobar tribe of Bara and the later hailing from Bar Qambarkhel.

Orakzai district with one seat is set to witness a close contest among independent candidates Ghazan Jamal and Johar Abbas and Shoib Hassan of the PTI. Ghazan Jamal, son of former federal minister Dr G.G. Jamal, is being supported by the JUI-F.

In PK-108 (Kurram-I), a lively contest is expected among PTI’s Iqbal Syed Mian, retired Col Javed Ullah Khan of the PPP and independents Ibrar Jan and Inayat Hussain. Iqbal Mian had contested the NA election on a PTI ticket and remained runner up by securing 16,996 votes. In PK-109 (Kurram-II), a tough contest is expected among JUI-F’s Mohammad Riaz, PTI’s Shahid Bangash and Haji Saleem Khan, an independent candidate.

The observers believe that independent candidates affiliated with the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement are likely to give tough time to the candidates of major political parties, especially the JUI-F and PTI, in North and South Waziristan.

Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2019