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Challenge and opportunity

KP voters have given a second chance to PTI. Does that mean they have high expectations?

Challenge and opportunity
Election campaign: Qissa Khwani Bazaar.

Unlike the 2013 general election when the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) after coming to power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) had to take care of the interests of three political parties that were its coalition partners, it is now required to keep amused its 66 members of the provincial assembly, following its absolute victory in the July 25, 2018 polls.

In fact, the PTI strength in the assembly is still growing as three independent MPAs from Kohistan district have already joined it and the remaining three elected from other parts of the province may follow suit as there is no other worthwhile option that they can explore. The next chief minister would be kept busy trying to keep this army of lawmakers happy and disciplined.

As the PTI faced disciplinary issues throughout its five years stint in power in KP, this could happen again when the lawmakers seek berths in the cabinet and demand development funds and other favours.

Despite all his good intentions, the PTI Chairman Imran Khan was unable to implement his idea to stop provision of development funds to the lawmakers in KP which was the only province where his party was in power. He wanted them to focus on legislation work, but legislators used to handling large sums of public money earmarked for development work weren’t ready to give up this privilege. If Imran Khan has any intention of putting this idea into practice after becoming the prime minister, he should know that it would be opposed by all lawmakers, including those from the PTI. This may turn out to be a non-starter, but Imran Khan would be realistic rather than idealistic while experimenting with such innovative ideas in view of the fact that his government won’t have a big majority in the National Assembly and the opposition would continue to dominate the Senate.

Though the opposition parties in KP were decimated due to their big losses in the election, the defeat also made their leaders and lawmakers bitter. They are likely to close ranks to put up a combined opposition and tackle the PTI’s numerical superiority through obstructing tactics in the assembly. If someone seasoned like Pervez Khattak is the leader of the house, he would repeat the methods he used as the chief minister during 2013-2018 by quietly providing funds to prominent opposition lawmakers to keep them happy and contented.

As Imran Khan wants to shift Pervez Khattak to the centre by giving him an important position in the federal government, Mohammad Atif Khan as the likely new chief minister would have to learn quickly to be able to keep the opposition subdued and his party lawmakers disciplined.

As the KP voters have given a second chance to the PTI to rule the province in what is seen as something contrary to their past voting patterns, their expectations are high. In fact, the electorate overlooked the PTI government’s past failures and inability to fulfill the big promises that Imran Khan made in the 2013 election campaign and decided to try the party one more time.

Apparently, there won’t be a third chance if the PTI falters the second time, more so due to the fact that the party would now have its government in both KP and the centre unlike the recent past when the unsympathetic federal government was run by its major rival, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

The PTI government in KP this time would get a free hand and possibly extra funds to carry out major development projects and undertake reforms that in Imran Khan’s words could benefit the common people.

The transition of Fata into tribal districts following its merger with KP and the implementation of reforms aimed at mainstreaming the seven tribal agencies and six Frontier Regions would present both a challenge and opportunity for the PTI government in the province and the centre. The promised Rs100 billion yearly special funds for the erstwhile Fata in addition to its annual development budget of about Rs23 billion could transform the tribal districts if the money is made available in time and properly spent by overcoming security and capacity issues.

Former chief minister Pervez Khattak, while arguing his case for reappointment as chief minister, mentioned his experience as a plus point after having done the spadework last year for undertaking the political and economic reforms and setting up administrative and judicial institutions in the tribal districts. The KP government would have to meet key Fata reform timelines such as holding local government elections in October this year and polls on the 23 seats in the KP Assembly next year to give representation to the tribal people.

The new PTI government would have to decide what to do with the Ehtesab Commission, the anti-graft body that Imran Khan set up in KP with the claim that it would undertake real accountability of all and sundry, including his party’s ministers. It was in a way a rival to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), but no match to it in terms of mandate, scope of work, expertise and experience. In due course of time, the Ehtesab Commission became paralysed and a liability. Now that Imran Khan will be heading the federal government and is keen to undertake his anti-corruption campaign in the whole country, he could order the strengthening and streamlining of the affairs of NAB. There would be thus no need for a separate Ehtesab Commission in KP and it could be merged with NAB.

The KP government also has to complete its two unfinished major projects — the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Peshawar and the 81 kilometre long Swat Expressway. Chief Minister Pervez Khattak couldn’t complete these high cost projects in time despite efforts. The people would expect the incoming PTI government to complete the two flagship projects without compromising on quality and by avoiding further cost overruns. Already, the Peshawar High Court has directed the NAB to probe the BRT in view of the change in design that increased the costs, delay in completion of the project, and alleged corruption.

And last but not the least, the PTI government would be expected to continue its much-touted reforms in the education and health sectors, keep the police depoliticised as it had largely managed to do in its previous term, and continue ensuring good governance that it has been claiming to have done.

The improved attendance of teachers, doctors and other government employees earned appreciation and ought to continue. The Insaf Health Card scheme that benefited the poor to seek free treatment for major diseases is facing impediments due to resource constrains and would have to be streamlined. The government would also do well to extend to the whole country the so-called “Billion Tree Tsunami” forestation campaign that according to the PTI achieved its targets in KP.

Rahimullah Yusufzai

rahimullah yusufzai
The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. He can be reached at [email protected]

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