PESHAWAR - The first constituency of the National Assembly on the Election Commission’s list is NA-1, Peshawar, which is one of the most important constituencies of the country. It has the history of producing unexpected results. However, this time it seems that ANP’s Ghulam Ahmad Bilour has an edge over his rivals, including PTI Chairman Imran Khan.
The PTI chief's decision to contest from this seat with the support of young voters has increased the significance of this constituency. Despite growing threats, electioneering in NA-I is in full swing. This constituency comprises three seats of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, PK-1, PK-2 and PK-3.
In the 2008 election, PPP’s Zahir Shah won PK-2, while PK-1 and PK-2 were secured by ANP’s Alamzeb Khan and Bashir Ahmad Bilour, respectively. Unfortunately, both the ANP lawmakers were killed in a bomb blast. The ANP’s victory on two of the three seats shows that Pakhtun nationalist party has a strong vote bank in NA-1, followed by PPP, Jamaat-e-Islami, PML-N, JUI-F and PTI. It is unclear whose votes the PTI will snatch in NA-1, but it will be hard for any party to divide the ANP vote. However, for security reasons, this time it will be difficult for ANP to run its election campaign as actively as it has been doing in the past. The ANP, being targeted by militants, has gained sympathies even of its own disgruntled workers.
As things stand, Imran Khan doesn’t pose a serious challenge to Biloure. Though real contest will be between these two leaders, candidates of PPP, PML-N, JI and JUI-F are also in the race. NA-I has been the stronghold of the ANP and PPP. It comprises the urban vote bank of Peshawar city. The part of the constituency which falls into the boundaries of the old city predominantly votes in favour of PPP while the suburbs usually back ANP and JI.
Political observers say there will be a neck-and neck contest between Khan and Bliour. In case the ANP leader succeeds in defeating the former cricket hero, it will be his fourth win from this constituency. Bilour won 2008, 1997 and 1990 elections from here and was also victorious in the 1988 by-elections. This time, Bilour will face Imran Khan, Haji Shahnawaz of JUI-F, Afzal Khan Panyala of PML-N, Zulfiqar Afghani of PPP and JI’s Shabbir Ahmad Khan.
Obviously, NA-1 created a political in 1990 hype when Shaheed Benazir Bhutto decided to contest from NA-I, Peshawar. Ho++wever, she was defeated by Ghulam Ahmed Bilour. Ghulam Bilour also won the same seat in 1988, 1997 and 2008. While PPP candidates Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao (now chief of Qaumi Watan Party) and Syed Zafar Ali Shah won the seat in 1988 and 1993, respectively.
In 2002, only once since 1988 elections, a party other than PPP and ANP won the elections from NA-1. And he was Shabir Ahmed Khan, a candidate of religious parties’ alliance, MMA, who won the seat with a big margin against ANP’s Usman Bilour.
Shabbir Ahmed Khan is again contesting from this constituency from the platform of JI. In 2008, the JI boycotted the elections. In recent times, the constituency has been a stronghold of PPP and ANP. PML has also won the seat twice in 1977 and in 1985’s non-party-based elections. Yousaf Khattak and Younis Elahi Sethi were victorious during those elections. But since then it was a tough battle between PPP and ANP.
Traditionally, voters of NA-1, Peshawar, never voted to outsiders and Imran is considered to be an outsider, however, his party is actively campaigning for Imran despite the fact that Imran himself has yet to visit NA-1.
The PTI is gaining popularity as the party promises to end corruption, the US dominancy and restore peace to the country. Locals say militancy, and not corruption, is the main issue in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
However, they say if the PTI succeeds in motivating the people who did not vote in the last election to come out this time, the results could go in Khan’s favour. In 2008, only 23 percent of the registered had cast their votes.
On other site, PPP’s candidate is considered a weak competitor because Zulfiqar Afghani, the man who received the PPP’s ticket, is not popular among the residents of the area and the party workers. Last time PPP ticket holder Syed Ayub Shah bagged over 35,000 votes, but he was not considered for the ticket this time.
After the assassination of KPK senior minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour in the same constituency in a suicide attack after a party gathering, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour may get the sympathies of the voters, but with Taliban threatening to target ANP rallies during the elections it would be a big challenge for Bilour to carry out his election campaign in an effective manner.
Bilour’s popularity increased when he announced a bounty on the head of the producer of a blasphemous film. Following his call for a bounty, the city saw one of the biggest protests staged against the film. Political experts and analysts say the Bilour family has offered numerous political services for the people of the constituency and it will e difficult for Khan to defeat him.
JI candidate Shabbir Ahmed Khan won the seat in 2002 elections by getting over 40,000 votes. His position would have been more different, had his party allied with or mad seat adjustment with, JUI-F or PML-N which are also contesting separately from this constituency.