Ex-FATA Polls: ECP Failed To Ensure A Level Playing Field
The successful completion of first-ever provincial elections for 16 Khyber Pakhtunkwa (KP) Assembly seats in newly-merged districts of erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has paved the way for mainstreaming of the previously-lawless tribal region.
Independent candidates won the highest number of seats in the polls, followed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) which managed to win 5 seats. Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F (JUI-F) grabbed 3 seats, while ANP and JI secured 1 seat each.
Although most local politicians and candidates have expressed satisfaction over the way the polls were conducted, the mismanagement witnessed on Election Day has raised eyebrows. Concerns have also been raised over unequal election field and a ‘wave of fear’ in the region ahead of the polls.
Polling stations several KMs away from voters
PML-N candidate from Bajaur District PK 101 Nizammudin Khan says the voters had to face difficulties because they were allotted polling stations several kilometres away from their homes. “This unbearable distance and lack of means of transport hindered the participation of several voters”, he told Naya Daur.
While commenting on the election campaign, he said several cases of pre-poll rigging were seen. “The government began development work months before the elections in violation of the election rules. Cash was distributed among tribal elders and influentials to win favour”, he said.
Nizamuddin further said that mobile and internet services were suspended in the Bajaur district on the Election Day, which was also a hurdle in mobilizing voters.
He, however, added that the peaceful completion of elections is a good omen for the region and the electoral process will gradually become more transparent.
Meanwhile, several candidates and local leaders complained that the campaign was not a level playing field for all parties. Former Awami National Party (ANP) Senator Afrasiab Khattak said that ANP and other political groups were on the receiving end of terror which stopped them from effectively running their campaign.
“An ANP candidate was attacked ahead of the elections and the motive was to spread fear among those campaigning. Anti-terrorist parties were not given a level-playing field in the elections”, he told Naya Daur.
The former Senator also said that the May 26 clash between security forces and Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) workers after which MNAs Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar were arrested added to the wave of fear. “Pro-PTM candidates were unable to campaign because of the hostile atmosphere following the Khar Qamar incident and detention of the two lawmakers,” he said.
Khattak said that the state should be neutral while conducting the polls so the process remains free and fair. “Election Commission tends to outsource the electoral process to security agencies which undermines the fairness of the polls”, he said.
ECP indifferent to complaints of pre-poll rigging
A local PPP leader from Mohmand district Dr Farooq Afzal said that candidates belonging to the ruling party were openly flouting election rules during the campaign, but the ECP turned a blind eye to the violations.
The deputy commissioner distributed electricity poles among local elders to win over their support, which is a clear case of pre-poll rigging”, Farooq told Naya Daur.
He further said that representatives of all parties and several independent candidates wrote to the ECP prior to the elections against the pre-poll rigging witnessed in several constituencies, but the authorities remained unmoved.
The PPP leader claimed the authorities did not allow PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to visit the tribal region for election campaign on grounds that he is a sitting MNA. “But government’s sitting advisers had been actively taking part in the election campaign”, he added.
He further said that the provincial government began distributing healthcare package Sehat Insaf Card from ex-FATA a few months before the elections, which also falls under the category of pre-poll rigging.
Voter turnout unimpressive
Rehmat Mehsud, a local journalist who has been in the field in the tribal region, says the voter turnout was far from impressive.
He said that the ECP should have made arrangements for spreading awareness among the locals about the importance of the elections. “People belonging to remote areas did not have the resources to travel all the way to their polling stations. Local authorities should have arranged for transport for voters living in far flung areas,” he said.
Mehsud however added that the residents were overjoyed at the rise in political activities in the region which was once a lawless land.