Quetta: More than a dozen candidates will contest NA-260, Quetta, by-poll today, but a tough competition is expected amongst Bahadur Khan Mengal of Balochistan National Party (BNP), Engineer Usman Badini of Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam (JUI-F), Jamal Tarakai of Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and Umair Muhammad Hassani of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The seat was declared vacant after the death of Abdul Rahim Mandokhail of PkMAP. The PPP had won the seat in 2008 and the JUI-F (under the umbrella of now defunct MMA) in 2002. Generally, the incumbent party is considered favourite in a by-election, which is PkMAP in this case. Parties in government can use influence to secure seats. That may not be the case in NA-260 today because the PkMAP is under attack these days on charges of nepotism and corruption and since the constituency is just too large to be influenced by government machinery. Since 2013 general elections, BNP has emerged as a popular opposition party. It has displayed its public support by holding several large gatherings across the province. Agha Hassan Baloch, a BNP spokesman, claims that government machinery is working against his party. Talking to Daily Times, he says the ruling PML-N and PML-Q did not field their candidates so they could support a joint opponent against BNP. “If the election happens in a free and fair manner, we [BNP] can win it easily,” he says. BNP’s arch rival National Party (NP) has not fielded a candidate. It is supporting JUI-F against BNP. Asked about the nature of NP-JUI-F alliance, Khair Baksh Baloch, NP’s Nushki chapter head, told Daily Times that a principled agreement had been reached between Hasil Bizenjo and Maulana Fazlur Rehman to jointly contest the election. NA-260 is one of the most ethnically diverse constituencies. Local journalists hold that around 72 different tribes dwell in the area. It comprises Chagai, Nushki and one third of Quetta district – stretching from Kuchlak to Taftan. The constituency is divided into four provincial assembly constituencies – PB-5 and PB-6 in Quetta, PB-39 in Chagai and PB-40 in Nushki. Area-wise, it’s the largest electoral constituency of the country, making it difficult to cover the entire stretch during campaigns. In Quetta, PB-5 is a Baloch majority area where BNP has an edge over other parties, but JUI-F can also get significant votes from here. PB-6 is a Pakhtun-dominated area and here a tough battle is expected between JUI-F and PkMAP. In PB-39 Chagai, the PPP candidate has an apparent lead over others because he hails from Chagai, says Ali Raza Rind, a journalist based in Dalbandin. “PPP candidate will bag large number of votes from this area,” he says. PB-40 Nushki will be the centre stage of today’s election because both JUI-F and BNP candidates belong to this area. Since most of the political heavyweights of the area have already joined BNP, the party has an edge over JUI-F. Interestingly, Senator Yousaf Badini of PPP did not campaign for his party’s candidate. Instead he was an active part of the campaign of brother, who is contesting on the JUI-F ticket. An analysis of votes bagged by different parties in NA-260 in the last three elections shows that JUI-F has a clear edge. Candidates contesting on its tickets have bagged more than 84,000 votes collectively in general elections from 2002 onwards. The vote count of PPP and BNP candidates for two general elections adds up to 72,000 and 36,000, respectively. Both parties had boycotted 2008 elections here. Yet, statistics can’t always be relied upon to predict the correct outcome. Shahzada Zulfiqar, a senior analyst based in Quetta, believes that the election will really be a contest between BNP and JUI-F. He holds that the NP’s decision to support JUI-F in the by-poll will severely hurt the party’s vote bank. “I don’t think ideological supporters of NP will ever vote for a JUI-F candidate,” he says. The result of this election will set the course of next general elections in Balochistan. “Peaceful and transparent conduct of the by-election will bode well for general elections next year,” Zulfiqar says. Anyone following elections knows quite well that voters aren’t usually very enthusiastic about by-polls. Parties and candidates with effective election campaigning structures are able to bring voters in critical numbers to polling stations. Qasim Pirkani, a union council chairman in Quetta, has actively campaigned for BNP in PB-5. He suggests that voter turnout can be increased in by-elections by ensuring that polling stations are located closer to residential neighbourhoods. Nonetheless, Zulfiqar believes that turnout today is likely to higher than usual. “It is not going to be like a usual by-election due to the political stakes involved,” he says, “it will be like a final warm up match before next year’s elections. BNP and JUI-F will do their best today to increase voter turnout,” he contends. The outcome of NA-260 general election had remained controversial in NA-260. BNP had claimed victory and alleged that results were changed at the last minute. Published in Daily Times, July 15th , 2017.