Mansoor Akbar Kundi
THE elections held for 16 Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Assembly seats on 20 July may not be a marathon nationwide elections as witnessed last year, nevertheless, it stands far more political, symbolic and socio-cultural significance. The elections which beyond many expectations and speculations were held peacefully, enthusiastically and democratically with each candidate utilizing its bases of support to achieve success. All the polling stations existed inside the area once known as Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) now merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. A sizeable number of the polling stations were declared very sensitive and were under tight security, nevertheless, as the reports show the rivalry shown on the polling stations was more democratic or political than ethnic, ideological or personal. It, in fact, raises a reality that people of the tribal agencies if shown and afforded democratic channels and opportunities can prove they are democratic and representative minded like any other part of the country.
FATA had enjoyed restricted mode of franchise since 1947. In fact the area where lagged behind in necessary economic, social and educational development there it remained far behind politically. FATA comprised seven tribal agencies and six frontier regions (like sub-divisions in settled area). There four were raised by the British in the heyday of their rule in India. They were Khyber, South Waziristan, North Waziristan and Khurram,. Momand, Orakzai and Bajauar were raised after partition in 1962 and 1974. Under the 1973 Constitution FATA was given a restricted and indirect mode of election for National Assembly and Senate. There were many ifs and buts on the mode of elections but it prevailed and continued as long as elections were held for provincial and national assemblies in other parts of the country. During the period when the country was placed under martial law, the FATA was deprived of more or less any representation. FATA suffered from crisis of political development during the past and suffered from three major crises of participation, representation and distribution. The right of franchise was restricted until 1997. In 1997, FATA got the right of adult franchise but the system could not benefit the people in large as the elections and the jurisdiction of their franchise was limited to the elections of MNAs and majority of those were tribal bigwigs. In wider analysis, the right of franchise in 1997 was generally perceived as a “Vote Boon” for FATA but unfortunately two years after Gen. Musharraf took over and martial law proclaimed. The representative system was restored few years later but FATA fell into militancy and terrorism which led to military action in 2003 in Waziristan and other parts of FATA.
When we talk about the 20 July elections and its future effects on the promotion of representative system for the promotion of democratic norms under 25th Amendment, there a major credit goes to Pakistan Army and its unlimited sacrifices for courageous and brave role in the eradication of anti-state and terrorists elements in many parts of FATA. Had Army not taken an offensive role against terrorist groups and sealed border the holding of elections might not have been possible. Army has played a commendable role in promotion of peace and development in the areas. A total of 282 candidates contested the elections which is big number of candidates for limited number of seats. More than three million voters were registered of which as the elections result shows only overall 20% cast there vote. The number of the percentage of vote casts, which has traditionally been smaller in FATA, is however hopeful and shows good omen of better participation in future. And they bring hope for gender of political participation, now and in future as gender was active with a couple of female candidates contesting on party platform. There are reserve 5 seats; four for female and one for minorities. It is good that a minority seat is reserved as in Orakzai and Khyber districts there are Hindu and Sikh communities.
Political parties’ participatory in elections is promising. The role of political parties in these elections more active and participant than all past elections. More or less all political parties fielded their candidates against one another. The major political parties in race were ruling Pakistan Tehrik Insaf (PTI) and those in opposition Awami National Party (ANP), JUI (F), Jamat Islami and PML-N. However, PTI’s performance in many analyses is not bad. It is the second leading party though it was expected to win more seats due to the logic that those in power at the Centre in the past had enjoyed support. The independent candidates have done well. The candidates in FATA in the past in absolute large were as independent. The major reason for independents doing good in elections is that major support for a candidate comes on personal, tribal and kith and kin lines and not political, nevertheless, the elections were contested by each major political party enthusiastically and actively. It is a good omen of the election that in future it would strengthen party politics in tribal areas which in the past lacked popularity. As far as my understanding goes, in FATA only three political parties had influence. They were JI, ANP and JUI-F. ANP which inherited its politics from National Awami Party (NAP) and Red Shirts Khudai Kidmatgar had big following in FATA but due to lack of franchise they could not show muscles.
— The writer is a former VC and currently Professor in Deptt of Politics & IR in IIUI.