- Arbitrarily changing of numbers a slight to historic significance of Peshawar, claim ANP, PTI, JI, and PPP
- JUI-F smells conspiracy to try and delay elections
LAHORE/PESHAWAR: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) faces an onslaught in Peshawar as leaders from all major political parties of the city have come out swinging against the ECP’s plans to turn the current Peshawar NA-1 constituency into Peshawar NA-31.
The outpouring comes after the ECP issued a list of delimited constituencies, based on the recent national census in which the NA-1 constituency will become NA-31, while district Chitral will be given the coveted opening constituency number.
What has made the issue even more contentious is that the numbering of constituencies is an arbitrary decision and has been made simply as part of an overhaul with no consideration for such local sensitivities.
Demarcated back in 1970, the NA-1 constituency has remained an assembly seat of national stature throughout its electoral history. Traditionally the first to be called on election night, NA-1 has been contested, won, lost, and held by some of the biggest political names in the country’s history, including Benazir Bhutto, Imran Khan, Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan, Aftab Sherpao and Ghulam Ahmed Bilour.
But even as the deadline for complaints regarding the ECP’s new list of constituencies closes on April 3, political leaders from across the divide are united in their demand to see the Peshawar constituency retain its prestigious position.
The protests began with the Awami National Party (ANP) leader and current NA-1 Peshawar MNA Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, who addressed the ECP in an open letter demanding that the historical significance of the NA-1 constituency be respected and that the suggested delimitation be adjusted accordingly.
“The status of NA-1 has not been given to Peshawar as charity,” wrote Ghulam Ahmed Bilour in his letter to Chief Election Commissioner Justice (r) Sardar Raza Khan.
The ANP stalwart argued that Peshawar had been given the NA-1 label for its historic significance, saying “this constituency has given its blood for freedom.”
Now, speaking to Pakistan Today, former candidates of the constituency and leaders from the PTI, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Jamat e Islami (JI) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have all spoken out on the issue.
While no united front has come to the fore to try and pressure the ECP not to take away NA-1 from Peshawar, all leaders have individually condemned the ECP’s actions, saying that the move is crass and shows a disregard for the history and tradition of Peshawar.
“We have been holding meetings in regards to this and have spoken to people from the ECP, and I believe that such a move is harmful to the city of Peshawar,” said Gul Bacha, the PTI candidate who fought the NA-1 by-election and lost to Ghulam Ahmed Bilour in 2013.
“The NA-1 label has a historic significance to the city, and it makes no sense that the provincial capital be given a label as forgettable as NA-31 and a district given the NA-1 title,” he went on to add.
Meanwhile, the JUI-F KP spokesperson and former NA-1 candidate Jalil Jan said that he “smelled conspiracy” in the attempts to change the current NA-1 to NA-31.
“I think this may even be a grander plan to try and stop the election! Chitral is an important district but it is ridiculous that it be given such preference over the capital. Peshawar is an ancient city and NA-1 has become part of its history,” he told Pakistan Today.
“This will only create confusion for voters and candidates alike. After all, it is a simple process of numbering and there is no need to make such drastic changes,” he concluded.
The PPP’s candidate in the constituency, Ziaullah Afridi also said that this was a constituency in which Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto had fought the election and that the government was simply changing it at will with no consideration to its historical significance.
“How can a constituency of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto be so blatantly disrespected? The PPP will never stand for this,” he went on to say.
Current KP coalition party JI’s leader Siddiquddin Paracha also expressed much of the same sentiment, saying that Peshawar should continue to have the NA-1 constituency, but added that the JI would not be filing any official complaints to the ECP or be joining any sort of united front to protest the move.
With additional reporting by Aziz Buneri