Balochistan can take credit for being the first province to hold local body elections despite the deplorable law and order situation there. According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, a record 22,000 candidates submitted nomination papers for 7,190 seats.
Quetta and the northern areas of Balochistan, predominantly Pashtun majority districts, witnessed an unprecedented level of campaigning as all stakeholders – Pashtun nationalists and religious parties – asked their candidates to contest the elections. But in districts like Kech, earthquake-stricken Awaran, Panjgur, Khuzdar, Dera Bugti and Kohlu, the days leading up to the elections were like all other days with the insecurity in these areas continuing to prevail.
Baloch militants had warned people not to take part in the election campaign, threatening to target polling stations. Because of the unrest, elections were not held in Kech and Awaran, and other areas of Makran division.
The ruling National Party (NP) took full advantage of the situation, bagging a majority of the seats without much active campaigning. The party enjoyed support in Khuzdar, Awaran, Panjgur and other areas hit by militancy. Independent candidates also established a clear majority as many candidates felt that showing affiliation to any party may endanger their lives. Some candidates supported their local tribal elders, who are likely to support the parties which are in majority, so that issues that they hold important are given due attention.
The purpose of these elections was to allow people to choose their representatives who would lead them towards prosperity and development. But considering Balochistan’s troubled state, the entire process was akin to just going through the motions. It is a grave injustice that the people of the Makran division have been essentially deprived of the right to choose their own representatives.
The NP is undoubtedly one of the few populist parties in the province. However, had elections taken place under more peaceful circumstances in Baloch-dominated areas, it would have faced a tough fight. Holding elections without the free participation of the local people is an exercise in futility and will do nothing to further the cause of peace.
Rather than burying our heads in the sand, surely we need to be addressing the unresolved problems faced by these areas so that the people can freely exercise their right to vote.