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Senate elections hasten efforts to reconcile dissidents, appease lawmakers

PESHAWAR: The upcoming Senate elections have triggered political developments as political parties have accelerated efforts to reconcile with their dissident lawmakers and initiate steps to appease the long-ignored assembly members.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the looming Senate polls hastened the patch-up between Chief Minister Mahmood Khan and his former cabinet member Mohammad Atif Khan. Both had become inflexible in their attitude and intolerable to each other. The reconciliation took place when Prime Minister Imran Khan invited both along with the chief minister and Governor Shah Farman for a meeting in Islamabad.

The PTI couldn’t afford the loss of even one vote even though Atif Khan would not have voted for any opposition candidate in the Senate elections as it could have closed the doors on him for winning the trust of Imran Khan. Even otherwise, he has remained loyal to the PTI and Imran Khan despite his estrangement with Mahmood Khan.

The PTI leadership would also be closely watching two of its recently sacked provincial ministers, Sultan Mohammad Khan and Liaqat Khattak. The two were removed from the cabinet within 11 days. Sultan Mohammad Khan, the law and parliamentary affairs minister, was fired by the prime minister after being seen in an old video in which five KP MPAs were seen counting currency notes that were being paid to them for selling their votes to candidates in the March 2015 Senate elections. He was a member of the Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) and not the PTI at the time but even then he was sacked because he later joined the PTI to contest and win the July 2018 general election.

Liaqat Khattak, the younger brother of federal Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, was denotified as the irrigation minister two days ago after being blamed for supporting the winning Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) candidate, Ikhtiar Wali, instead of PTI’s Mian Mohammad Umar Kakakhel, in the PK-63 Nowshera by-election. Both Sultan Mohammad Khan and Liaqat Khattak were obviously angered by the way they were terminated without being given an opportunity to tell their side of the story and it remains to be seen if they would still vote for the PTI candidates for the Senate.

By winning the Nowshera by-election, the PML-N has increased its strength in the provincial assembly to seven, though it is still far less than needed to win a Senate seat. The PML-N would have to persuade other components of the 11-party opposition alliance, Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), to field joint candidates to be able to snatch Senate seats from the PTI, which had 94 seats in the KP Assembly.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) also managed to increase its strength in the KP Assembly to six when independent candidate, Amjad Afridi, elected from Kohat joined the party along with his father, Senator Shamim Afridi. This came as a bonus for the PPP as it got one extra seat in the provincial assembly along with a Senator without much of an effort. Amjad Afridi and his father must have made their political calculations before deciding just before the Senate elections to join the PPP, which fared poorly in the 2018 general election.

The Awami National Party (ANP) is the third biggest party in the KP Assembly after the PTI and Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI-F, but its numbers are still inadequate to get its candidates elected as member of the Senate. It failed to do well in the Nowshera by-election as its candidate, Mian Wajahatullah Kakakhel, secured just 4,279 votes compared to the winner, PML-N’s Ikhtiar Wali who polled 21,222 and the runner-up, PTI’s Mian Umar Kakakhel who obtained 17,023 votes. In fact, it is a common observation that ANP votes are decreasing even in constituencies where it did well in past elections. The ANP would have made a better decision by supporting the PML-N nominee as the joint PDM candidate to earn goodwill and strengthen the opposition alliance instead of fielding its own weak contestant.

The JUI-F backed the PML-N candidate in the Nowshera by-election, but it worked hard to get its nominee, Mohammad Jamil Chamkani, elected from the NA-45 Kurram constituency that had been won by its late candidate Munir Khan Orakzai in the July 2018 general election. However, the JUI-F candidate lost the seat to PTI’s Malik Fakharuzzaman by 1,150 votes. The JUI-F and PTI have become the major contenders in electoral politics in southern KP and the Kurram by-election was an evidence of the tough contest between the two parties.

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