Independents--K-P’s kingmakers?

PESHAWAR: Regardless of the number of seats the different parties manage to secure in today’s elections—whether the PTI will be able to secure an second consecutive term, one thing is for certain in the province, a large number of independent candidates contesting the elections hold the key to forming the government.

As far as the idea that Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) never elects a party for a second consecutive term is concerned, it is a mere myth. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was elected into power in the province on three separate occasions, just that none of them was for consecutive terms. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was elected twice.

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In 2002, after the number of general seats in the province increased to 99, while 22 seats were reserved for women and three for minorities, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) was elected into power.

The following elections, in 2008, the Awami National Party (ANP) emerged as the strongest party in the province who partnered with the PPP to form a government. Then in 2013, residents of the province gave the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) a chance, who had to take the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) on board to form a coalition government.

However, ever since 1988, there is one group which has slowly carved a key corner in the provincial legislature. It is the independents, not least because their absorption into the governments is over 85 per cent through the years

In 1988, as many as 15 independent candidates were elected to the provincial assembly. This dipped to 13 in 1990, and 10 in 1993. While it stayed at 10 in 1999, this figure rose to 15 in 2002 and 22 in 2008.

While the figure again fell to 14 in 2013, their role is set to increase in today’s elections.

This year, around 1,165 candidates will be competing for the 99 provincial assembly seats. As many as 505 of these, or around 43 per cent, are contesting as independents.

The divided vote bank is a testament to how K-P has historically voted, with residents of the province having a tendency to vote against the tide.

This is part of how the people in the Hazara belt votes differently to how those in the central, western and southern parts of the province vote.

Moreover, this time there is a large factor of disgruntled party workers who were overlooked by their party for an electoral ticket.

A number of these disgruntled candidates hail from the PTI who felt aggrieved by their party’s decision to hand tickets to ‘electables’, but could not bring themselves to contest from the platform of other parties.

Also, a number of candidates were wary of the MMA owing to the burgeoning differences between the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) and the JI. With the independents, from major parties no less, bloating the total number of candidates in several constituencies, their presence on the ballot sheet could impact the elections in a major way.

With an increase of 3.05 million voters since 2013, the number of voters in the province has increased from 12.266 million in 2013 to 15.316 million. There is a gender gap of 2 million between men and women. Moreover, the province has a considerable youth population who are between 18 to 34 years of age.

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The ANP’s vote bank in five districts of Peshawar, Mardan, Charsadda, Nowshera and Swabi to elect 37 members to the provincial assembly was a power it had used to great effect to form the government in 2013.

But the tables have completely turned now. Having been wiped out in 2013, it now faces strengthened opponents in these areas.

Having already ruled the province once in 2002, there was much speculation about the MMA returning to the province for this election. Back then, the MMA comprised of six parties. This time, however, there are only two parties and their coalition looks a little shaky.

Despite that, it is expected to give opponents a tough time.

The youth factor along with the turnout of women voters will be a major determining factor in deciding where the tide turns.

Mobilising the voters on the voting day, thus, could prove to be the only difference amidst security issues.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2018.

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