1 / 5
An election rally of Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) at Lasbela city of Balochistan Province, Pakistan. (Photo by BAP’s twitter account)
2 / 5
An election rally of Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) at Usta Mohammad city, in Jafarabad District of Balochistan Province, Pakistan. (Photo by BAP’s twitter account)
3 / 5
President National Party (NP) addressing a news conference at Karachi Press Club here on Saturday, on June 30, 2018. President PMLN Sindh, Shah Muhammad Shah and other leaders also present. (Arab News Photo)
4 / 5
Balochistan Awami Party’s Jam Kamal Khan and Balochistan National Party’s Sardar Ataullah Mengal are contesting from NA-272- Lasbela-Cum-Gwadar (Courtesy: website Election Commission of Pakistan)
5 / 5
PMLN’s Sardar Sanullah Zehri and Balochistan National Party’s Sardar Ataullah Mengal are contesting from NA-269 Khuzdar, Balochistan (Courtesy: website Election Commission of Pakistan)
Analysts expect a higher voter turnout in polls after improvement in law and order in BalochistanPakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) is seen as ‘irrelevant’ in the province as political parties brace for July 25 general elections
Updated 30 June 2018
June 30, 2018 23:15
QUETTA: In Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan, around 4.2 million registered voters — including 2.4 million men and 1.8 million women — will elect 16 national assembly and 51 provincial assembly members in the general elections on July 25.
The provincial election commission is yet to issue the list of final candidates.
According to details shared with Arab News by the election body, a total of 435 nomination papers were collected for national assembly and 1,400 nomination forms were received for provincial assembly seats. Around 208 nomination forms were submitted on reserved seats of women and minorities, according to Ghuas Bakhsh, spokesman of the electoral commission’s regional office in Quetta.
Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) is finding it hard to find strong ground in Balochistan, where improved law and order and thus better political campaigning is expected to perk up the turnout, which had always been lowest in Pakistan.
The coalition government of the PML-N was dislodged in January this year when several politicians in the party expressed mistrust over the then Chief Minister Sanullah Zehri, resulting in the formation of a new government for few months and the establishment of Balochistan Awami Party (BAP).
“We have witnessed better law and order and with the exception of few attacks on election candidates, the situation is very calm compared to in 2013, when it was hard for candidates to campaign,” said Saeed Sarbazi, a senior Baloch journalist hosting a talk show at the Balochi-language VSH News.
“It will certainly increase the voting turnout but it’s hard to say that we may see a significant increase,” Sarbazi said.
Senior analyst Raza Rumi thinks otherwise and said the turnout may not be higher in Balochistan due to physical distances between the polling stations and boycotting calls by certain Baloch groups. “So it’s always a matter of low turnout. I don’t see that improving,” he said.
Rumi said that the elections in Balochistan will reflect the overall trend that is picking up momentum in the country.
“So it’s widely expected that the new political party — Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) — and the Muttahida Majlis–e–Amal (MMA), under a rebranded identity, will be securing more seats this time,” he said.
Former Chief Minister and leader of PML-N, Sardar Sanullah Zehri, is contesting the election on NA-269 constituency in Khuzdar, where he will face Sardar Akhter Mengal of Balochistan National Party (BNP), who enjoys the support of Muttahida Majlis Amal, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and independent candidates.
According to seat adjustments being finalized by PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari and BNP chief Akhter Mengal, the PPP will support the BNP candidates for National Assembly Seat NA 272 from Lasbela and on Provincial Assembly Constituency PB-51 in Gwadar, while BNP will support the PPP candidate in PB 39 and PB 50 constituencies.
The PML-N is, however, in arrangements with National Party, its former coalition partner.
“This recent development, however, doesn’t bring Zehri out of the danger zone,” Sarbazi said.
Although, it’s an easy one-way contest of electables on most seats in the Baloch belt, there’s another seat in this belt where the contest will be interesting.
Jam Kamal Khan, president of BAP and one of the top contenders for Chief Minister Balochistan, is contesting on NA-272 and PB-50, where he will face candidates of BNP and PPP, respectively, making it hard, if not impossible, for him to win the seat.
In the 2013 general elections, Jam Kamal Khan won the NA-270 (now 272, according to new delimitation) by bagging 56,658 votes as an independent candidate whereas Ghulam Akbar Lasi of the Pakistan People’s Party secured 35,141 votes.
Sardar Akhtrer Mengal, former Chief Minister Balochistan, will make the contest tough for both Sardar Sanullah Zehri and Jam Kamal Khan, said Sarbazi.
“The situation on ground makes it highly unlikely for Zehri to win the seat,” he said, adding that if it happens PML-N may be completely wiped out of Balochistan.
Since most of the electable candidates are with BAP and the nationalists are divided, it provides perfect chance for the newly formed BAP to win the majority of the Baloch belt seats, Sarbazi said.
Another interesting contest will happen in Kharan, where BNP’s Sanullah Baloch will compete with Shoaib Nausherwani, one of the electables.
Besides, other former prominent electables such as Zafraullah Jamali, Abdul Qadoos Bizenjo, Jam Jamal, and Zubaida Jalal, who was federal minister education during the regime of former military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, is contesting elections from her home constituency of Kech.
Swing backing toward Religious Alliance
Jalal Noorzai, a political analyst in Quetta, said in the Pashtun belt people are not happy with the Pashtun nationalist party, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (Pk-MAP), which could not deliver despite holding the important position of governor Balochistan and having several provincial ministries in the last regime.
“The Pashtun belt, which had been electing candidates of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F), will vote for the religious alliance, Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA),” said Raza-ur-Rehman, senior journalist and president of the Quetta Press Club.
Rehman said there seems to be a coalition government of PAB-MMA, with the former holding slot of chief minister, for which several candidates of the PAB, including former CM Abdul Qadoos Bizenjo, President BAP Jam Kamal Khan, and Jam Jamal, are aspiring. “I call it Maa[n] (mother), BAP (father) government,” he said.
“The MMA could win more seats but its internal rift will decrease the number of its winning constituencies,” Noorzai says.
The BAP, on the other hand, has the faces which were in PML-Q in 2002, and joined PPP’s coalition regime in 2008, followed by their joining PML-N in 2013. They are now trying their luck through their own party instead of joining any other clique.
In an earlier interview with Arab News, leader of BAP and former CM Balochistan Abdul Quddus Bizenjo said that since they were winning as independents but couldn’t get anything for the province during the past two governments of PPP and PML-N, “we decided to form our own party.”
“All those contesting from BAP, which has so far fielded the largest number of 200 candidates, are chieftains of their respective areas and electable,” said Rehman.
“Since BAP has electables and enjoys the support of the security establishment, it may take majority seats but not enough to avoid a coalition government,” Noorzai maintains.
In the last elections, the PMLN had bagged 21 of 65 (including reserved) seats in Balochistan after attracting electables from the PPP.
PkMAP had emerged as the second largest party of the province by taking 14 seats, while the National Party could secure 11 seats, prompting all three to form a coalition government.
“PMLN is poised to face a whitewash, PTI is irrelevant, PPP is striving to make itself relevant by supporting strong contenders of the nationalist parties in Balochistan,” Sarbazi concluded.