The phased Khyber Pakhtunkhwa local government polls have brought out unexpected results, not for the ruling party, but for the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) and Awami National Party (ANP) candidates. The two parties have made a successful comeback to local government politics, which will cement their standing in the next general elections. So far, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, as was being predicted, has seen its rating dwindling, mainly due to its poor performance, its inability to meet electoral promises, and everyday increasing price hikes. In the 17 KP districts, where polling was held on Sunday, the PTI has lost its strongholds to the two parties and independent candidates. The Peshawar mayor slot has gone to JUI-F’s Zubair Ali. The same has happened with the PTI in the district headquarters of Kohat, Mardan, Charsadda, Bannu, Swabi, Nowshera, and other districts. The newly-merged areas of the former tribal areas have also not been so kind to the ruling party candidates. The defeated candidates include the closest family members of the minister and parliamentarians of the PTI. The elections have proven, what PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari once said, ‘democracy is the best revenge’. When one cannot perform well, the constituents never forgive you.
Local government polls always attract the grassroots voters’ interest, and for these reasons, voter turnout remained high. As no election goes with the incidents of violence, this phase also had its shares of violent clashes between rival groups. In some areas, polling had to be stopped due to irregularities on the part of the polling staff. In Bajaur, a suicide bomber struck a polling station, while in Bannu, polling staff was kidnapped. In Karak, Information Minister Shibli Faraz came under attack by a mob, while in Dera Ismail Khan, an ANP candidate was shot dead hours before the polling. These incidents are unfortunate. The continuity of the democratic process can induce tolerance among the electorates. The problem is with the mindset of the governments of the day, which is always less interested in local government polls. The Supreme Court had to pester the provincial governments to first restore the local councils and later announcing the poll schedule. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, however, is credited with taking the lead. Punjab, Sindh, and Balochistan have planned elections in March next.
The first phase of the local council elections provides a ray of hope to the ruling party that all is not lost, as the party has stood second after the JUI-F. The government must overcome price hikes and address public concerns before going into the final phase where it has been invincible in the last elections.