PESHAWAR: The opposition Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl has outperformed both its allies and rivals in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa local body polls and this victory is likely to reshape the province’s political landscape in near future.

Perhaps, the JUI-F has never been in a better position in the province’s electoral politics since the landslide victory of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal religious alliance in the 2002 general elections.

However, this time around, the party has stunned its allies and opponents on its own compared to the 2002 victory by an alliance of six parties.

The defunct MMA, a conglomerate of six religious parties, swept the 2002 general elections in Peshawar valley and formed the provincial government. On the other hand, its gains have come at heavy cost for both its allies as well as rivals.

Analysts say PTI defeat in LG polls people’s reaction to bad governance, inflation

The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, which emerged as the JUI-F nemesis in the last two general elections in the province, is set to lose heavily from the election.

Both parties have fought bitter war of words, primarily over political ascendency in the province. On the other hand, the Awami National Party despite showing signs of resurgence in different districts has faced the loss of face in its birthplace of Charsadda district at the hand of the JUI-F.

The JUI-F’s rival JI has also failed to make its mark in the first phase of local body elections. Maulana’s party performance in Peshawar and other parts of central, away from the party power base of southern KP has stunned other political parties.

According to unofficial results, the JUI-F candidates have won 10 seats of tehsil chairman/mayor out of 24 tehsil. Elections have held on 63 tehsil across 17 districts. On the other hand, a large number of party candidates have stood runner in so many tehsil.

In the provincial capital, the JUI-F made inroad amazingly which is major upset for the traditional political forces like PPP and ANP. Its candidate, Zubair Ali, son of former Peshawar mayor Haji Ghulam Ali, has definitive lead of over 12,000 votes over his closest rival of the PTI, Rizwan Bangash.

In another major surprise, the JUI-F candidate stood runner-up in the Mardan mayor election by securing over 49,000 votes.

The questions arises how the JUI-F managed to pull out this feat and what the Maulana did, which others failed to follow. It is too early to pinpoint the exact reasons for the sudden rise of the JUI-F at this moment. However, political observers believe many factors, including geo-political shifts battering the region, failures of the ruling PTI, and Maulana’s more than three years efforts to mobilise his electoral base have led to this outcome.

Aurangzeb Khan, a Peshawar-based political analyst, views the issues in the terms of regional geo-political shifts that have brought the religion to the fore the debate in the region.

“KP is a border province and the JUI-F’s victory happens at a time when the larger regional shifts marked by the rise of the [Afghan] Taliban and Islamic State [militant group] in Afghanistan is impacting Pakistan’s strategic outlook and consequently the space for religious elements in its polity and politics,” he said.

Mr Aurangzeb said the trend that harked back to military ruler Pervez Musharraf’s Pakistan, where the religious alliance of the MMA were brought to power in the then NWFP during the initial years of the war on terrorism.

He said students of the JUI-F madressahs were the Taliban that took over Afghanistan in 1996 and going even beyond, how religious parties supported ‘Gen Zia’s and American-Saudi jihad’ against the USSR in Afghanistan.

“Among all these instances, three things are common: Religiosity and religious parties, Afghanistan, and the bigger international objectives/dynamics impacting the region (Afghan Jihad against USSR, and the American/Nato led war on terrorism). This time again, we are seeing a coalescing of these trends and in view of this, the JUI-F may have won the local government elections, but to me, it is just a taste of things to come,” he added.

Analysts and inner circle of the JUI-F believe that Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s steady campaign against Prime Minister Imran Khan was one of the factors that inspired the people to cast vote in favour of the JUI-F.

“There are several factors, which could be attributed to the better performance of JUI-F, but people fully expressed their lack of trust in the PTI due to its poor governance, inflation and delivery of services,” said Prof Hussain Shaheed Soherwordi, who teaches international relations in the University of Peshawar.

He claimed that the local body elections in 17 districts could be the “acid test” for the 2023 general elections.

Prof Soherwordi said Maulana Fazlur Rehman was very vocal against Imran Khan and successfully cashed his anti-PTI campaign.

He said the takeover of the Taliban in Afghanistan might be a spur for rise of religious sentiments of the JUI-F workers.

“Certainly, the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban inspired religious elements, especially the JUI-F workers and unlike other opposition parties, its workers came out in droves on the polling day,” he said.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2021

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