Malakand Division prepares battlefield for July 25 polls

PPP, PML-N eye return to power as PTI hope to retain some seats


Shahbullah Yousafzai July 23, 2018
PHOTO: EXPRESS

PESHAWAR: The mountainous Malakand division of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) – once known as mini-Larkana owing to its staunch support for the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) – is said to be a swing division of sorts, having a profound impact on which parties form governments in the province.

The Malakand division contributes around 10 MNAs to the National Assembly and comprises 23 K-P Assembly constituencies — or nearly quarter of all seats in the provincial assembly. For the NA seats, three are from Swat, two from Lower Dir, and one each from Upper Dir, Buner, Shangla, Malakand and Chitral.

For the provincial assembly, there are eight from Swat, five from Lower Dir, three each in Upper Dir, Buner, two from Shangla, two from Malakand and one from Chitral.

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A total of 7.51 million people live in these areas with over 3.65 million registered voters and the proportion of men and women among these voters is roughly equal.

In Upper and Lower Dir, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and the PPP have solidified their positions. The Awami National Party (ANP) also enjoys a not-so-insignificant vote bank in the district.

The MMA, however, may face tough competition from other parties and independents. Moreover, its alliance with like-minded religious parties is already fraught with divisions to squabbles over the award of party tickets. In fact, one MMA member is actually running as an independent.

The PPP is hoping to make a bold statement from Malakand where party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is contesting the national assembly constituency NA-8. Some of the prominent Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) members are also in the running from MMA’s platform in the region.

In Swat, the PTI and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have made inroads in the area over the past five years. The PTI had managed to dislodge both the ANP and the PPP from two seats in the district in the 2013 elections while the PML-N had maintained its grip on the third seat from Swat. This time around, the four are expected to fight hard for the three seats.

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While the PPP chairman contests from Malakand, PML-N chief Shahbaz Sharif is contesting from NA-3 Swat II. Sharif has successfully managed to elicit the support of MMA against PTI’s Saleem Rehman — who had trounced PML-N’s provincial president Amir Muqam from the area in 2013. Muqam is contesting from NA-2 Swat-I seat this time and he will have to contend with ANP’s Dr Haider Ali. Muqam is also contesting for the NA seat from Shangla, which he expects to win.

PTI’s Murad Saeed will be contesting NA-4 Swat-III.

In NA-9 Buner, there are seven candidates vying for the seat. The MMA has been fighting internal fires at every corner in the constituency and has found itself in a quandary with its ally, the JI, backing the PML-N candidate.

Political analysts believe that on the NA-9 Buner seat, the JI and the PML-N’s ‘joint candidate’ Kamran Khan may edge out ANP’s Haji Abdur Rauf.

It is expected that the PTI’s Sher Akbar Khan, the electable who joined the party from the JI, may give tough time to the other. However, with disgruntled party member candidate Mian Moinuddin standing as an independent, it may undermine the PTI candidate’s election push.

Other candidates in NA-9 ANP’s Haji Rauf, All Pakistan Muslim League’s (APML) Sir Mir Khan, MMA’s Istiqbal Khan and Awami Workers Party’s (AWP) Fanoos Gujjar.

Buner also has three provincial seats – PK-20, PK-21, and PK-22.  For PK-20, Bakht Jehan, a joint candidate of the PML-N and the JI, and the ANP’s Bakht Afsar Khan are expected to fight it out. The MMA’s Abdul Fazal Ghafoor also has considerable influence in the constituency.

For PK-21, Engineer Sardar Ali Khan is the ‘joint candidate’ of the PML-N and the JI, while the ANP has fielded Qaiser Wali and the PTI has given a ticket to Syed Fakhar-e-Jehan.

All three are likely to face off in a tough contest.

For the third provincial seat of PK-22, ANP’s former parliamentary leader Sardar Hussain Babak, the PML-N-JI joint candidate Raj Wali Khan and the PTI’s Abdul Kabir Khan are the prime contenders. Political analysts claim that the real contest is between the ANP and JI-PML-N candidate. Security forces in Malakand have been put on the high alert and police and armed forces have started joint patrolling. More security personnel will be deployed at sensitive polling stations on July 25.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2018.

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