If you want to know who will make the next government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa watch what happens here on July 25: Peshawar, Charsadda, Nowshera, Mardan and Swabi.
These five are the swing districts—no one knows how they will vote. It is much clearer in the other parts of KP.
These five big ones have all voted for different parties since 2002. These swing districts are where the real fight will take place. They send up 37 MPAs to the KP house of elected representatives.
Peshawar, for example, was considered an ANP stronghold but the party was booted out in 2013 much to its shock. Peshawar valley has a high literacy rate. Voters here are not particularly impressed by the tribal system or feudals. “Around 30% are undecided or floating voters whose votes matter and can change the election in these [Peshawar valley] districts,” says Dr Sohail Khan, head of Education at Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan.
Then take Charsadda. It is the district of Asfandyar Wali Khan, but his party could not win a single seat from there.
If you look at the PPP, it formed the government twice in KP but has been completely wiped out from these districts since then.
The Jamaat-e-Islami won a majority of KP seats in 2002. It couldn’t win a single one from here in the 2008 and 2013 elections.
In 2002, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal won a majority of seats (18 out of 37). But after that, it won seven out of 11 KP assembly seats in Peshawar districts, one each from Charsadda and Nowshera, seven from Mardan and two from Swabi.
In 2008, the ANP emerged as the single largest party in the province with 48 seats from KP and 23 from Peshawar valley. By 2013, however, the ANP lost all its seats to the PTI. Journalist Haq Nawaz Khan explains this as the outcome of militancy and bad optics for the ANP, which he feels otherwise had a good track record of new infrastructure. He gives the example of it building nine universities and 72 colleges despite the massive displacement of people.
Every political party has strongholds in KP. Lower and Upper Dir belong to the Jamaat-e-Islami. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam takes the southern districts (Karak, Bannu, DI Khan, Lakki Marwat and Tank). The PML-N has a large vote bank in Hazara division. The PTI, ANP and PML-N have vote banks in Swat, Malakand, Shangla and Buner. “The biradari system matters a lot in the southern districts where people don’t vote for a candidate outside their community,” says journalist Waseem Ahmad Shah.
What will matter in the swing districts, however, is how social and mainstream media play it out. This will help undecided or swing voters decide, he argues.
He gives the example of the 2002 and 2008 general elections. In earlier elections the Afghan war was underway and the accountability watchdog was targeting secular parties. “The field was open for religious parties and they secured most of the seats in the valley and from the southern districts,” he says. But in 2008, secular parties (ANP and PPP) were free to run their campaigns and everyone knew that these parties would win. Fast-forward to 2013. People had lost trust in religious parties but the ANP could not run its campaign and people wanted “change”, so they overwhelmingly voted for the PTI.
And so, it is likely that the results would be scattered as we saw in the 1993 elections, says Dr Sohail. In the 1990 elections and after 1997 onward KP has had uniform results in the Peshawar valley where voters voted a single party to power.