Elections With a Positive Outcome in Balochistan
Saturday’s general elections in Balochistan largely remained peaceful, transparent and productive despite the lowest voters’ turnout probably ever witnessed in the history of the province. Voters’ turnout is hardly given much consideration while judging the success of an election as long as a candidate is elected and all political parties are provided a level playing field in the election race. The turnout was so poor that even one candidate, who won a provincial assembly seat, obtained less than 1000 votes but he was still declared the winner because he had the highest number of votes.
At the time of writing this editorial, most results of the Balochistan Assembly are still awaited. It is premature to say which party will attain the highest number of seats but it is totally safe to conclude that Balochistan will, as usual, have a coalition government. Based on some of the initial unofficial results we have seen, the elections will positively influence Balochistan’s politics for good reasons. Consider:
First, all political parties, including the Baloch and Pashtun nationalists, participated in the elections. Candidates belonging to almost all parties faced major attacks and disruptions during their election campaigns but they remained resilient until the voting day. None of the parties or candidates raised objections against the care-taker government or accused it of using the official machinery for the advantage of certain political parties. No pre-poll rigging complaints were made by any of the parties which showed their satisfaction with the whole process and the arrangements made for the elections. We barely heard anything about the Establishment’s interference as the campaigns in Baloch areas predominantly saw hardliner Balochs fighting the moderates.
Second, besides a few violent incidents, including a deadly blast in Naseerabad district that killed 14 people, polling took place in a relatively peaceful atmosphere in the rest of the province. The Baloch armed groups, just like the Taliban elsewhere in Pakistan, did not deliver their promise of bombing polling stations and attack candidates. Over all, the state of law and order remained in control since political pundits were expecting deadlier attacks in Balochistan.
Third, the Baloch National Front’s two-day long shutter down and wheel jam strike was indeed very successful in terms of preventing the Baloch people from going to vote. In the long run, the boycott failed because members of he provincial assembly were still elected and the next assembly would not have a composition problem. It would still have representatives from the Baloch areas. The armed group’s warnings to attack elections will also go in the government’s favor because when the international election observers write their reports about the polls in Balochistan, they will attribute the low public turnout to the fear caused by insurgent groups, not the government’s interference or failures.
Fourth, two prominent Baloch nationalist leaders, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, president of the Balochistan National Party and Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch, president of the National Party, have both won their provincial assembly seats. The two leaders had boycotted the last general elections in 2008 and their participation has legitimized and validated this year’s elections. Whether Sardar Mengal, also a former chief minister of the province and Dr. Baloch, a former education minister, join the future government or lead the opposition, their presence in the Balochistan Assembly is very positive development. After all, the previous provincial government headed by the Pakistan People’s Party systematically crushed the provincial opposition by appointing every member of the assembly as a minister or adviser. This year, that culture is going to change and we expect that the province will have a strong and pro-active opposition that will hold the government accountable for its policies.
Fifth, the Pashtun nationalists have notched remarkable successes in their areas. Just like the Baloch nationalists, the Pashtun nationalists (except for the Awami National Party) also boycotted the previous elections. The initial results show that the Pashtun nationalists have quashed the right-wing Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam (J.U.I.), an ardent supporter of the Taliban. The Pashtun nationalists’ success is the victory of progressive and secular forces against the obscurantist J.U.I. This brings a lot of hope for the Pashtun areas and partly helps in limiting the influence of the Taliban in parts of Balochistan. The Pashtun community is the biggest victims of Pakistan’s pro-Taliban policies.
Sixth, one little but highly critical success on Saturday was that of Mr. Abdul Khaliq Hazara, chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party (H.D.P.). The Hazaras desperately need representation in the provincial assembly considering the upsurge in violence against them by Sunni militant group, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. More than one hundred Hazaras had been killed only this year in Balochistan. Previous members of the National and provincial assembly belonging to the Hazara community, such as Syed Nasir Ali Shah, Colonel (retired) Younas Changezi and Jan Ali Changezi, barely raised voice for the rights of the Hazara people. Hazaras need a capable and practical leader like Abdul Khaliq Hazara to lead them instead of allowing some Shia clerics to play with public sentiments and encourage Shia fundamentalism among the Hazara youths. Mr. Hazara is also widely respected for his good relations with the Baloch and the Pashtun nationalists.
Seventh, the overwhelming success of Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League at the national level and also in the province of the Punjab gives hopes to a new policy toward Balochistan. Mr. Sharif and his brother Shahbaz, a former chief minister of the Punjab, have been actively calling for reconciliation in Balochistan. They have opposed the use of military force in the province. The Sharifs have excellent working relations with almost all Baloch tribes and political stakeholders. Hence, they are uniquely positioned to use their rich contacts and newly acquired public mandate to reach out to the Pakistani military, the judiciary and the Baloch nationalists to find an win-win solution to the Balochistan conflict.
Finally, the care-taker chief ministerNawab Ghaus Bakhsh Barozai is appreciable for successfully organizing elections in the volatile province. There were several times when one thought that the government would postpone the elections but the chief minister, who worked as a ‘one-man government’ throughout the election season, ensured peaceful polls. Before the elections, he regularly met with the leaders of all political parties in order to educate everyone about the interim government’s policies.
Successful elections do not necessarily mean a successful transfer of power nor do they promise good governance. The new wave of violence against political candidates will continue even after the elections. So, the new government in Balochistan will inherit a bunch of serious problems that could not previously be fixed by the government even after the imposition of a state of Governor’s Rule in the province earlier this year. The elections were indeed an important milestone but the way forward is going to entail a lot of challenges and opportunities for the future of Balochistan.
Published in The Baloch Hal on May 11, 2013