PESHAWAR: With elections just a day away, the PTI is hoping that it can secure a second succesive term. But people in the Kohat district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) do not generally do that.
“Our people very rarely vote in a candidate or party for a second consecutive term come hail or sunshine,” said Umer Shah, a senior lawyer who works at the district courts in Kohat and is keenly interested in the political ups and downs in the district.
The district has a population of 993,874. Of these, election commission of Pakistan (ECP) data shows that 506,699 people or 51 per cent of the district’s population are registered to vote, including 284,678 men and 222,021 women. There are 442 polling stations in the constituency and 1,275 polling booths. There is a single constituency of the national assembly, the NA-32, along with three seats of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) assembly in the district and three seats for the provincial assembly including PK-80, PK-81 and PK-82.
During the May 2013 general elections, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had swept the polls in, including Kohat where the party’s ticket holder Shehryar Afridi dislodged the Awami National Party’s (ANP) Pir Dilawar Shah.
PTI had also secured the three provincial assembly seats from the district.
Unlike in some other parts of the province, the party has faced some tough challenges in the district. One of the key contentions was over the release of oil and gas royalties owed to Kohat, prompting protests in the provincial assembly from its local lawmaker Amjad Afridi.
Residents of the district say PTI’s position is now “much weaker” than the last general elections here. The situation has been made more complex due to the rising popularity of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman in southern districts of K-and the return of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).
“At the moment, the PTI’s position is much weaker in the district when compared to the 2013 general polls,” Shah told The Express Tribune.
Is change coming?
PTI’s vocal senior leader Shehryar Afridi had secured the seat (then known as NA-14) in 2013 by bagging 68,129 votes, or around 40 per cent of the polled votes in 2013. He had replaced ANP’s Pir Dilawar Shah, who had won the seat from the MMA in 2008.
Despite that ominous history, PTI has opted to stick with Shehryar in the constituency where he will face nine other challengers.
Locals, however, complain that Shehryar did little for the district in terms of development work.
“The people of Kohat elected him, but he left them and was only seen in talk shows on news channels,” complained Mohammad Imran, a local interested in politics.
For his part, Shehryar in his nomination papers listed a host of development activities including attracting private investment to spud two oil refineries, build a 64-kilometre road connecting Nowshera with Kohat worth Rs2.25 billion, building a medical and dental college and a nursing hostel along with the Kohat Sports Complex.
This, however, is more than what his prime rival, the MMA’s Gohar Bangash has listed in his papers.
Bangash is the son Seth Saifullah Bangash and enjoys the support of his large clan.
Originally a member of the JUI-F, Bangash and Shehryar have quite an electoral history in this constituency. The latter beat the former during the 2013 elections by a landslide after Bangash could only muster 32,041 votes.
“Gohar is said to be in the lead for the slot but the energetic youth of PTI cannot be ignored who are backing Shehryar,” said Imran.
For the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), local business tycoon Abbas Afridi is in the running.
The son of Senator Shamim Afridi and brother of PTI former provincial assembly lawmaker Amjad, locals believe that Abbas will give the PTI and the MMA candidates a tough fight but rate him behind Bangash for the top slot.
Provincial assembly seats
PK-80 Kohat-I, previously known as PK-37, is a virtual stronghold of Amjad Afridi.
Contesting as independent candidates, he has twice won this constituency for consecutive terms, including in 2008 and in 2013. However, on both occasions, he did so by narrow margins (just over 100 votes in 2008).
While he sided with the PTI in the last government, he developed differences with the party on the issue of royalties and issuance of development funds. As a result, the PTI awarded a ticket to its district president Aftab Alam Afridi.
The MMA has given its ticket to former MPA Shaukat Habib. However, it is unlikely that in a constituency where the only exception to the rule is Amjad, those things will change in the upcoming elections.
On the PK-81 or Kohat-II, PTI ticket holder and former law minister Imtiaz Shahid Qureshi is contesting. He will face Major (retd) Shah Dad Khan of the MMA and Iftikharuddin of ANP. Independent candidate Dr Iqbal Din Fana is also in the running along with nine other candidates.
Shah Dad is the son of K-P Assembly Deputy Speaker Shad Mohammad Khan. Both Dr Fana and Shah Dad Khan are believed to be tough competitors for Qureshi despite this constituency being a major PTI vote bank.
The PK-82 was secured by Ziaullah Bangash of the PTI in 2013 with 20,796 votes.
The party has handed him a ticket once again, but he is up against tough odds in the form of the former K-P governor and PTI member Syed Iftikhar Shah who is contesting as an independent.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2018.
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