PESHAWAR: Instead of striking electoral alliances and joining hands with each other, major political parties are going solo in the upcoming local government election to gauge strength of their individual vote bank for general elections 2023.

As canvassing for the local government elections, scheduled for December 19 in 17 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, reaches a fever pitch, political parties have fielded individual candidates for top mayoral positions in 66 city/tehsil councils.

Pakistan Democratic Movement, an alliance of opposition parties, has failed to nominate consensus candidates for the LG polls. The alliance’s constituent parties PML-N, JUI-F and QWP are all contesting the elections as individual parties, except Peshawar where PML-N and QWP would be supporting JUI-F candidate Zubair Ali for the position of city mayor.

Pakistan Democratic Movement also fails to field joint candidates

Still, the alliance members do not view it as a joining of forces under the banner of PDM. “PML-N and QWP’s support for our candidate does not mean it is an electoral alliance. We are open to seat adjustment with other political parties except PTI,” Jalil Jan, JUI-F provincial spokesperson, told this scribe.

JI and ANP are not members of PDM but both the parties are significant players in the political scheme of the province. They have also ruled out alliance with other parties.

Mohammad Iqbal, JI provincial spokesperson, said that unlike in the past, the party decided that it would not context elections in alliance with other parties.

“Elections, whether general or local government would be contested under the banner of the scale, JI’s electoral symbol,” he said. However, party insiders say that JUI-F had approached JI to withdraw its mayoral candidate in Peshawar in support of the former. However, JI declined, saying the party wanted to assess its own popularity graph by fielding the party candidate Advocate Bahrullah.

Political analysts see this assertion of independent identity in the LG context as natural for the political scheme of KP.

The political dynamics of local government, they say, are different from national elections where the winning chances are improved through a closing of ranks in the form of seat adjustments and electoral alliances where a larger political party enters these to improve its chances to win. That logic, however, does not apply to KP.

“The LG elections in KP have to be seen from this lens where the local parties have their own individual vote bank and they do not need to mobilise alliances as in case of general elections in the entire country,” says Zaigham Khan, a political commentator.

“It is more a chance of mobilising their own vote bank, which an alliance would only dilute. Why would JUI-F, for example, want an alliance for a mayoral contest in Bannu, or ANP or PTI in Karachi where a (local) mayoral position is the prize,” he questioned.

M Khan said that removal of district tier from the LG polls was anti-parliamentary. The LG elections this time would be only contested only at tehsil council and village/neighbourhood council levels. “This negates spirit of devolution because after the province, the next stage is the district, not tehsil and village councils,” he added.

A source told this scribe that support of PML-N and QWP to the JUI-F nominee was not due to PDM but the two parties had no suitable candidates to win the elections. Besides, Zubair Ali’s father Haji Ghulam Ali, a former senator and district nazim of Peshawar, also managed to get support of the two parties for his son on the basis of personal understanding.

“PDM is in grip of JUI-F. JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman is its central president and his brother Maulana Attaur Rehman is its provincial chief but they did not bother to convene at least a single meeting of the allies to develop consensus for electoral alliance also,” the source said.

He admitted that the opposition alliance also lacked understanding and every party was attempting to find its own way out despite being in the alliance.

PML-N provincial spokesman Ikhtiar Wali Khan said that his party had also withdrawn its candidate Jan Mohammad in favour of JUI-F’s candidate for Nowshera tehsil council Qari Akhtar Munir. He claimed that his party’s support would lead to success of the JUI-F nominees.

He described it very difficult for uneducated voters to understand the voting process. He said that people had enough of the elections, which brought no financial relief to them rather wasted their time.

Similarly, QWP provincial senior vice chairman Tariq Khan said that in the prevailing situation, the best option for his party was to support the JUI-F candidate. He said that opposition parties needed to develop understanding to give tough time to PTI.

PPP deputy provincial secretary information Tahir Abbas told Dawn that his party had nominated candidates without any alliance with the hope to win the election. “Besides door-to-door campaign, we held 24 corner meetings in Peshawar with large number of people in attendance,” he said.

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2021

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