July 20 was a historic day for the people of the newly merged districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Scores of citizens flocked to polling stations to vote for 16 seats of the KP Assembly from these districts.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had announced elections on 16 seats of the KP Assembly from seven merged districts which were created after the 25th Constitutional Amendment. This amendment abolished the federally administered tribal areas (also known as FATA). Before the merger, the people of FATA would vote for candidates contesting on seats of the National Assembly. These representatives could not take part in legislation for the merged districts since any law, rules or regulations applicable in the zone was directly issued by the president of Pakistan.
This was the first time elections for the provincial assembly were held in the region and people were given the right to elect their representatives. They will now have the authority to take part in legislation for the province, which now includes these merged districts.
“It was definitely a historic day for the people of tribal districts. They honoured the importance of the day by coming out of their homes to vote for their representatives,” said Noor Islam Safi, a youth leader from district Mohmand. Safi was satisfied with security arrangements on election day and also during the time candidates were campaigning.
“There were some shortcomings in preparations, but overall the elections were good,” Safi said, adding that women of his family and the entire neighbourhood came out and voted.
As many as 285 candidates were contesting the election, of which 202 were independent, and two were women candidates contesting on the general seats in Kurram and Khyber districts.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had fielded 16 candidates, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JIU-F) had 15 candidates, the Awami National Party (ANP) had 14 candidates in the contest while the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Jamaat-e-Islami had 13 candidates each in the run. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz issued tickets to five candidates for the elections. According to ECP records, a total 2.8 million voters were registered, including 1.13 million female voters.
The ECP established 1,897 polling stations for the election, including 482 for male voters, 376 for female voters and 1,039 combined. The ECP had declared 554 polling stations as most sensitive and 461 as sensitive. Pakistan Army, Frontier Constabulary and the police was deployed to guard polling stations across the tribal areas.
Earlier, it was announced by ECP that army men would be present inside the polling stations, but the decision drew criticism from political parties and on social media, after which the ECP allowed soldiers inside only the most sensitive polling stations.
Chief Election Commissioner Sardar Muhammad Raza praised the people of the tribal districts for showing interest in the elections and maintaining peace on polling day. “The people of tribal areas have shown the world that they are peaceful and have a democratic vision,” the ECP chief said in a statement.
The elections, however, went against the general perception people had about tribal areas, particularly regarding the law and order situation and turn out of women voters.
Even though the election was held in militancy-torn areas, the day ended peacefully, without any untoward incident. Still, the administrations of North and South Waziristan, and the ECP faced some criticism on social media for not providing a level playing field to candidates and imposing Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code during the election campaign.
The turnout of women was 28.6 percent of the total polled votes. Women’s turnout did not drop to less than 10 percent in any constituency.
ECP spokesperson Sohail Ahmed said the women voters’ turnout in PK-109 (Kurram-II) was 44 percent, which was unprecedented. The turnout of male voters against registered voters was 31 percent and against the total polled votes the male turnout was 71 percent.
Independent candidates secured six seats, followed by the PTI with five seats, JUI-F with three and ANP and JI with one seat each. The PTI, being the ruling party in both the centre and province, did not perform well. There are some grumblings within the party that tickets were not allotted on merit because of which deserving workers turned against the party and contested elections independently, dividing the vote bank of the party. The PTI could not win a seat in Mohmand, Khyber and Orakzai.
“The party’s parliamentary board allotted tickets to people with money, leaving those who deserved the tickets,” said a senior party activist requesting anonymity.
“Members of the parliamentary board which decided ticket allotments should be held responsible for the outcome of the elections,” he said.
Waseem Ahmad Shah, a senior journalist based in Peshawar, said that despite being in power, the PTI could not perform well in the election. This was after the ECP had served the government notices for violating the code of conduct when it announced packages for the people of merged districts just a day or two before the elections.
“Ticket allotments was the main reasons the poor performance of the PTI,” Shah said, pointing to PK-106 of Khyber district as an example, where the runner-up candidate was a disgruntled PTI activist who was not given the ticket. The PTI’s ticket holder stood third.
“The ticket was given to a newcomer, which upset the party worker who ended up contesting as independent and dividing the vote bank of the party,” Shah said. He added that most independent winners were from influential political families who had deep roots among the people. According to Shah, if independent winners joined the PTI, it would give the party an extra seat in four reserved seats of women and a minority seat.
The writer is a journalist based in Peshawar