THE first-ever provincial election in the areas comprising former Fata was a momentous occasion in the country’s history, paving the way for the long-awaited representation of tribal residents who want to see the upliftment of their conflict-ridden and underdeveloped region. According to initial results released by the ECP, independent candidates dominated the provincial assembly elections in the seven tribal districts of Fata by securing six out of the 16 general seats, while the ruling party grabbed five seats. In total, 285 candidates, including two women, contested the general seats of the KP Assembly to represent three constituencies each of Bajaur and Khyber districts; two each of Mohmand, Kurram, North Waziristan and South Waziristan; and one each of Orakzai district and ex-Frontier regions. Polling was held under heavy security arrangements, but the process was peaceful — a considerable achievement considering how vulnerable the tribal agencies have been to terrorist violence.
The results from the election underscore the unique dynamics of politics in Fata, where independent candidates have historically triumphed over political parties as the latter do not have strong roots in the tribal areas. It is also clear that candidates who had the resources to splurge on political campaigns won by comfortable margins as evidenced in Khyber district. In some constituencies, voters stamped the ballot according to their tribal links or affiliation with religious parties. Notable also was the victory of the PTM-linked candidate who won in North Waziristan — an area still reeling from the attack on the Kharqamar check-post. Two of the biggest political parties in the country — the PPP and PML-N — did not bag even a single seat, underscoring the parties’ disconnect with the voters. The overall turnout remained low, with 735,000 of the 2.8m registered voters going to the polls; women’s representation stood at 28.6pc, despite the fact that it was a watershed moment for Fata. Evidently, there is work to be done to involve the residents of the tribal districts into the political process. The ECP had launched an impressive awareness campaign in the tribal districts in the run-up to the polls, but gaps still exist and the ECP must engage and motivate more voters before the next election. There was also the issue of campaign restrictions in North and South Waziristan, which was eventually lifted after the ECP intervened last week.
Despite the low turnout, the Fata election recorded the historic commitment of its residents towards the voting process. The searing heat, security fears, and the absence of the political fervour which grips a country during a general election did not keep away voters in constituencies such as Kurram-II, which saw a 40pc turnout. Though it may not have been a level playing field for some, it is still heartening that the general consensus amongst the candidates was that the election was free and fair — a rare sentiment in a country where politics are dramatically divisive.
Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2019