This article was published in Dawn a week before the 2002 general elections
By Zar Alam Khan
With turnout gradually decreasing over the last years, voters in NA-32 (previously NA-24) in Chitral seem to be even more disinterested in elections this time as Oct 10 polls are nearing.
The district, with a population of 318,000 according to the 1998 census, one National Assembly seat for which the people’s Party Parliamentarians, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal , PPP (Shaheed Bhutto Group) and Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) have fielded their candidates.
Since the 1990 elections, when the turnout of voters remained over 56 per cent, there has been a gradual erosion of interest among the electorates. It is being attributed to mainly the poor performance of the public representatives in solving basic problems, besides repeatedly going to the polls during the last two decades has led to a voter-weariness. As the elected representatives could not keep their promises after coming to power, people in far-flung villages have set preconditions for casting their votes en masse, without any regard to party affiliation, in support of any candidate who gives them undertaking to meet their demands. These demands relate to the construction of canals, hydel powerhouses, establishment of healthcare facilities and link roads. Generally, the attitude of the voters in Chitral has always been reflective of the overall national political turnabout, despite the people’s interwoven ethnic background. For the first time since the 1985 general elections, PML leader Shahzada Mohiuddin is not contesting the elections and has brought his son into the foray as he himself is leading the district government as Nazim.
The four contenders all political novice – PPP’s Sardar Ali Sardar Aman and former postmaster general of the province; Shahzada Iftikharuddin of the PML-Q, MMA’s Maulana Abdul Akbar and Abdul Latif of the PTI. About 200 polling stations have been set up in this 14,850 square kilometres rugged valley with over 350 scattered villages in which 170, 954 voters including 81,283 women are supposed to go to the polls. Besides the Kalash community will use their right to franchise this time under the joint electorate system. They have 1,312 registered voters.
Since 1970, all the major political forces including the PPP, PML and the Jamaat-i-Islami have held sway in this constituency, which has never been considered a stronghold of any single party.
In the 1988 elections, Begum Nusrat Bhutto of the PPP won the seat by getting 32,812 votes. Her close rival Shahzada Mohoiuddin of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad, who had been elected from the seat in 1985, bagged 23,405 votes. The other contesters were Begum Sher Wali Khan (1,423 votes), and Mufti Noorullah (726 votes). The total number of voters was 116, 400 and the turnout remained 51.47 per cent. Later Nusrat Bhutto vacated the seat for an old PPP worker Syed Ghafoor Shah.
Then in 1991, Shahzada Mohoiuddin of the IJI defeated Pyar Ali Allana of Karachi by a margin of 14,641 votes. The IJI candidate got 36,269 votes. The JUI’s Obaidullah got 6,282 votes and 184 votes went to Mohammad Jehangir. Over 56 per cent of the voters used their right to franchise which was about five per cent higher than in 1988 elections.
In 1993, five candidates were in the run for the seat. Maulana Abdur Rahim of Pakistan Islamic Front won the seat with 16,275 votes. Others were Begum Suleman Khan of the PPP (15,765 votes), Shahzada Mohiuddin of the PML-N (14,560 votes), and Ghulam Nabi Khan and Syed Qasim Shah, both independent candidates, 8,234 and 2,333 votes, respectively. The percentage of votes cast this time dropped by over eight percent. The number of registered voters was 121, 297.
In 1997, PML’s Shazada Mohiuddin returned by getting 24,302 votes. His close rival Ahmed Saeed Khan of the PPP got 12,222 votes followed by PPP SB’s Allah Dad (6,977 votes), and Maulvi Abdul Hamid Khan of the JUI with 6,538 votes. The turnout again dropped by almost seven per cent – over 10 per cent as compared to the 1988 polls.