It’s not very frequent that the restive province of Balochistan is engaged in constructive democratic activity. A rare occasion was the by-election of NA-260 of National Assembly which successfully took place on 15th July. This by-election charged the political atmosphere of the province for all the right reasons. After an eventful election day, and a closely contested battle, JUI-F managed to clinch the victory leaving behind BNP as runner-up.
In 2013, elections on NA-260 were controversial and marred with serious allegations of rigging. Therefore, conducting them fair and free this time was a huge challenge. On the Election Day, voter turnout was 29% which was a reduction from 41% in 2013 general elections. This is understandable, because normally the turnout is low in by-election as people don’t take the same interest as they do in general elections.
Engineer Usman Badini of right wing Conservative party, JUI-F, won the election by securing over 44,000 votes. Historically JUI-F has always been a strong player on this constituency. Analysis of all elections on this seat from 2002 onwards prove that JUI-F had bagged more votes as compared to any other party. So, JUI-F’s victory is not a surprise in any way. In addition to that,the JUI-F played a masterstroke by choosing an influential electable for this election who used his strength to further increase votes for the party. The victory of JUI-F in this election has established the party as a major player in Balochistan after general elections of 2018. JUI-F has proved that they can go to any extent of political opportunism for securing electoral victory.
Moreover BNP, a left wing Baloch nationalist party, was the dark horse in this election. Due to its popularity in Nushki and PB-5 it was expected that BNP will give a tough time to JUI-F. This is what happened and BNP candidate was runner up with 37,000 votes. BNP increased its votes from 25,000 in 2013 elections to 37,000 which is a big success. However, the party failed to bring its supporters to the polls, especially in PB-5. This election exposed the flaws in the party machinery of BNP, which need to be sorted out if the party wants to translate its popularity into electoral success. Otherwise, this party might face the unpleasant fate of losing elections despite having popular support.
PKMAP, a left leaning Pashtun nationalist party, was the defending champion on this seat. However, they were already ruled out from winning the election due to the ethnic composition of this constituency,which was in contradiction to their political stand. PKMAP candidate only managed to secure 20,000 votes in this election which was 10,000 less than the votes secured by the party in 2013 elections. PKMAP was the only party where the party head, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, actively campaigned for the candidate. Despite the campaigning of the party chief, the vote scored by PKMAP is disappointing. The fewer votes secured by PKMAP not only express the disapproval of performance of party in Balochistan government but also cast doubts on their chances of electoral success in 2018.
Likewise, the Candidate of Federalist Party PPPP secured the 4th largest number of votes. The Candidate of PPP was a young and inexperienced son of a PPP stalwart. Awarding ticket to an inexperienced youngster cemented the belief that PPPP is a dynastic party. PPP had no chance of winning the election from the outset. However, votes bagged by PPPP indicate that if the same family gets the PPP ticket then it can be a serious contender for elections on provincial constituency of Chagai in 2018.
The ruling National Party is also a Baloch nationalist party. NP didn’t even field a candidate for the sake of face saving and supported the candidate of JUI-F in the elections. Although it’s debatable what role NP played in the victory of JUI-F, but it’s beyond any doubt that NP would have fared poorly in elections if they had fielded a candidate of their own. The alliance of NP with JUI-F was severely criticized on ideological grounds. NP chose to support a party with a contradictory political ideology, just to ensure the defeat of its archrival BNP, which has political ideology not any different than NP.
Nonetheless, the reluctance of NP to field its candidate proves that the party was afraid of gauging public response to their performance. This means that chances of NP to secure electoral successes in next elections are grim.
Likewise, the ruling PML-N was also nowhere to be seen in the largest constituency elections. PML-N is planning to again get the government in Balochistan in 2018, but their irrelevance in this election hints that even holding ground in next elections would be an uphill task for them.
Moving on, there are certain silver linings that can be taken from this election. First is the alliance between BNP, ANP and HDP. This will increase the political bonds between Baloch, Pashtun and Hazara in Balochistan, which would promote the much needed inter-ethnic harmony in Balochistan. Secondly, the elections were held peacefully and largely fair and free without any significant claims of rigging. This is an improvement as compared to what transpired in NA-260 in 2013 elections. This development has further increased the chances of fair and free polls in next elections in Balochistan.
Furthermore, this election was ignored by the mainstream media and that’s why social media was the only place where information was shared about the elections. Due to the unchecked nature of social media a lot of fake news and claims were spread on the Election Day. Although these claims did not make a decisive impact on elections, but they created a sense of uncertainty, which is unfortunate.
At the same time, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) failed to devise a mechanism to provide timely information to media and public about election results which resulted in speculation and fake claims. In this digital age of technology, ECP could have arranged for sharing election results from all 407 polling station just within few hours after end of polls but they failed to do so.