With polling underway, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is hoping to get six of its seven candidates elected as members of the Senate. This in turn has put it under tremendous pressure to retain the loyalty of its lawmakers and protect them from being tempted to vote for wealthy contestants belonging to the opposition parties.
With the highest number of legislators in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly, the PTI has the best chances of winning more Senate seats than the other parties in the province. However, candidates of rival parties have been working overtime to sway PTI MPAs with tempting offers. This has become especially concerning since the party has been suffering from indiscipline that has in the past led to the formation of a ‘forward bloc’ comprising of dissident lawmakers. Besides, a number of PTI MPAs who failed to perform or resorted to indiscipline are unlikely to get party tickets for contesting the next general elections, which means that their vote is up for grabs.
Overall, it would be embarrassing for the PTI if some of its MPAs vote for other candidates instead of their own party nominees.
The election for the Senate in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the adjoining Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), have always generated controversy, as it is alleged that moneyed candidates buy votes from the legislators to get elected. It is unthinkable to seek election from Fata without spending unbelievably big sums of cash. Only 11 members of the National Assembly (MNAs) from Fata will get to elect four members of the Senate. Every vote counts and every vote has an asking price. As is tradition, the richest candidates with the heaviest purse become Senators, or as happened in the previous Senate polls in March 2015, the tribal MNAs manoeuvred to get their brothers and cousins elected as Senators.
Compared to Fata, the Senate election in KP is based more on political affiliation than personal influence. However, money has increasingly become a key factor in deciding the outcome of the polls. The fact that political parties field more candidates than their actual strength in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly is a clear indicator of their intention to win extra Senate seats by making smart electoral alliances, and by doling out the right amount.
As was the case in the previous Senate elections, the PPP has again taken the lead by fielding two candidates for the general seats and one for the women reserved seat in the province, despite the fact that it has a total of seven MPAs, including former provincial minister Ziaullah Afridi who joined the PPP after being expelled from the PTI. It even brought a wealthy candidate from Islamabad, Faisal Sakhi Butt, to contest for the Senate from KP. To the party’s credit though, the PPP has also fielded the poorest candidate among the whole lot by giving its ticket to a committed party worker, Behramand Khan Tangi.
Other parties, including Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI-F, have given tickets to one or two resourceful candidates, since money could be a deciding factor.
One surprising element of the ongoing Senate polls in the KP is the absence of a wealthy political family from Dera Ismail Khan that used to contest and win every election in the past. The family was affiliated with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), though its members on certain occasions also contested for the Senate as independent candidates. Its late patriarch, Gulzar Ahmad Khan, set a record of sorts when he was once elected Senator along with his brother, Mukhtar Ahmad Khan, and son, Waqar Ahmad Khan. Some lawmakers remarked that the decision of the family, now led by Waqar Ahmad Khan, to stay away from the Senate polls has taken the fun out of the election.
However, the absence of this family has been adequately compensated by other resourceful families. The PTI awarded tickets to newcomers Ayub Afridi and Fida Mohammad Khan, both known businessmen with the latter recently quitting Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Two other PTI candidates, Azam Khan Swati and Khayal Zaman Orakzai, are also men of wealth. The party also rewarded party loyalists with lesser resources, Faisal Javed, Latif Yousafzai and Dr Mehr Taj Roghani, with tickets for contesting.
The PML-N and JUI-F having 16 MPAs each are hoping to win at least one or even two Senate seats by making alliance with each other and other opposition parties. Both parties have suffered a setback as one MPA quit JUI-F and two abandoned the PML-N, though the latter got two pro-PTI legislators, Jamshed Khan and Babar Salim, to join its ranks.
Aftab Sherpao’s Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) also lost two of its MPAs – Sultan Mohammad Khan who joined the PTI and Ibrar Husain Tanoli who went to the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI). The party with eight MPAs is struggling to get its lone candidate, Anisazeb Tahirkheli, elected as Senator.
Over in the JI camp. It too has fielded one candidate, its provincial chief Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, as it doesn’t have the numbers to win even one seat. Though it is part of the PTI-led provincial government, their relations aren’t cordial and it is still unclear if the PTI would give some votes to the JI candidate to ensure his success. Though the JI and JUI-F, along with other religious parties, have decided to revive their Islamic alliance, MMA, for contesting the general election, they haven’t fielded joint candidates for the Senate polls.
Finally, the Awami National Party (ANP), which has only five members in the 125-member provincial assembly, would have to work hard to get votes from other opposition parties if it wants its candidate for the women reserved seat to succeed.
—Yusufzai is the Resident Editor of The News International in Peshawar