Saturday’s electoral exercise in what foreign media outlets often relish to call ‘tribal badlands’ marks a first in the region’s history. Democracy has spread its tentacles to a region until recently considered a hotbed of militancy and unrest.
Merged – of late – with the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, the tribal districts voted enthusiastically and peacefully to send 16 of their representatives to the K-P provincial assembly. This embrace of democracy exemplifies an altogether new trend in the tribal belt where, not very long ago, terrorists had found a sanctuary to wage a war against the state.
Our armed forces had to launch a long and sustained campaign to drive them out of the territory and turn it into a space peaceful enough to stage first parliamentary elections. According to unofficial results, independents walked away with most seats – 6 to be precise – in the contest.
The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) came in second as five of its contenders booked seats in the K-P Assembly by defeating their rivals. Among political entities, Imran’s party thus emerged as the principal beneficiary of the vote.
PTI is closely followed – in terms of poll victory – by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) which grabbed three seats. Awami National Party (ANP) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) won one seat each. PML-N and PPP, the two large opposition parties, were conspicuous by their absence on the victory stand.
The highlight of the parliamentary election in the merged districts was their peaceful conduct, something unheard of in similar poll exercises undertaken elsewhere in the country. This was made possible by Pakistan Army, police, Levies Force and Khasadar, whose contingents stood guard as people cast their ballots. Also of note was participation of women in large numbers. In fact, their turnout remained higher than the national average.
This should give heart to pro-democracy activists who want womenfolk to exercise their right to franchise in a much bigger way than is the case at present. A total of 21 seats – sixteen general seats, four women (reserved seats) and a minority seat – from the merged tribal districts will be added to the existing body of lawmakers at the K-P Assembly.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2019.