In July, residents of Quetta are facing long hours of load shedding amid a water supply crisis. Narrow roads are choked all the time due to mismanagement of traffic and target killing of policemen has become a weekly affair. Yet the city is jubilant as the election campaign in Balochistan has kicked off from Quetta, the seat of provincial government and largest city of the province.
The battle for Quetta in the upcoming elections is significant on multiple counts. Not only Quetta is the largest city of the province but it’s also the commercial hub and ultimate power center. Although, political heavy weights such as Mehmood Khan Achakzai are contesting for National Assembly from Quetta but it’s the provincial assembly seats which are important in case of power politics in Balochistan.
Electoral battle for Quetta has become important after the latest delimitations which have increased seats of provincial assembly from 6 to 9, which are up for grabs in forthcoming elections. Provincial assembly seats of Quetta are very important because they almost makeup 20 percent of the general seats in Balochistan assembly. Any political party who wins significant seats from Quetta will have edge in government formation.
Quetta is arguably the only district in Balochistan where voting is not affecting by tribal system. In Quetta there is no majority of a single tribe and therefore the voting can’t be influenced on tribal linings like rest of the province. Outside of Quetta, in every district there is majority of few tribes and the leaders of those tribe win the elections. In that sense Quetta is pretty much an open playing field. Here, vote bank is divided on the basis of political parties and ethnicities but not on tribal basis. Therefore, all major political parties of the province want to get their share from seats of Quetta in elections.
Moreover, in Quetta the votes are normally divided among Baloch, Pashtun, Hazaras and rest of other ethnic communities which are called settlers. Balochistan National Party (BNP) largely gets the major share of votes from the Baloch areas. JUI-F and PKMAP battle for the conservative Pashtun votes in the city. Settlers votes, mainly clustered in city center go to politicians like Tahir Mehmood who happens to be in Balochistan Awmai Party (BAP) now. This means that there is not a single party which dominates electoral paradigm in Quetta and seats are divided.
Agha Hassan Baloch, Spokesman of BNP, claims that if fair and free elections are held then BNP will win at least 4 out of 9 seats. He told Newsline “We are the largest political party in Quetta with more than 300 units.” Our candidates are strong and we will win not only from Baloch majority areas of the city but also from the city center which has non-Baloch population.
Shahzada Zulfiqar, a senior journalist, however disagrees with the claims of Baloch. He believes that seats of provincial assembly of Quetta will be evenly divided between JUI-F, BNP, PKMAP and other parties. “Political dynamics of different areas in Quetta are different and therefore it’s hard to guess with certainty that which party will win majority of seats,” He said.
In last general elections 2 out of 6 constituencies of Quetta were marred by allegations of massive rigging. In former PB-4 and PB-5, BNP claims to have won but the results declared the candidates of PKAMP as winner. Till this day both parties are loggerheads over the issue of election rigging in Quetta in last elections. This time around PKMAP is protesting against, which it calls, unfair delimitations which have been created to benefit the opponents of PKMAP.
Baloch on the other hand claims that Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is very strong this time and it will not allow rigging in elections in Quetta like what happened in 2013. “Street power of political parties coupled with the awareness among the people have made election rigging very difficult if not impossible,” He claimed.
Quetta is the center of electoral campaigning in Balochistan but the development and problems of Quetta are not in debate. All the parties who are battling for seats in Quetta are contesting elections on political rhetoric of political empowerment of one ethnicity which they represent. No one is contesting polls on the premise that they will develop Quetta. In fact, mega development of the city is not even a part of their election manifestos.
Quetta has just 9 seats but almost all 65 members of Balochistan assembly live in the city. Still the residents of the city can’t hope to see any meaningful development in aftermath of the elections. As long as the electoral system is not accountability based, Quetta will continue to be the most backward capital in the country.
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