MARDAN Many in Mardan claim that when he was heading the provincial government from 2008 to 2013, Amir Haider Hoti invested a major chunk of the provincial budget on his native city of Mardan to secure his electoral chances here, at the behest of other parts of the province. Dozens of developmental projects (roads, flyovers, educational institutions, irrigation system) testify that Hoti did pay quite a lot of attention to the district. Analysts highlight that it on the basis of these works that Hoti managed to win elections in both NA constituencies of Mardan, while other contenders of ANP faced defeat elsewhere in the province. This year, Hoti is contesting against the former education minister of PTI in KP, Atif Khan, who is a strong candidate, according to observers in the area. Hoti is also facing strong resistance from ideologues in the ANP, many of whom, former Khudae-Khidmatgars, have switched loyalties to other parties as they claimed that Hoti left no performance to take back to the voters between 2008 and 2013. Analyst still maintain that Hoti will benefit from past development works, while his PTI contenders will rely on the KP government’s reforms in police that have led to a considerable decline in crime rate. An interesting aspect of the contest is that Atif Khan maintains a popular social media profile, with 310,000 followers. In contrast, Hoti has a mere 1,997 followers, and he has posted no tweet after April. On the role of social media influence, Tahir Imran, a social media editor for BBC, says that in Pakistan, what mattered in electoral politics was work on the ground as door-to-door campaigns, bribes, and personnel vote bank counted in candidates’ successes. Hoti secured 44,769 votes in 2013 general election, while the runner up was PTI’s Nasir Khan who got 42,068 votes. Other strong candidates were Maulana Shuja-ul-Mulk of MMA, Syed Abid Ali Shah,PPP and Mohammad Said of Freedom movement are the strongest candidates. The total vote registered in NA 21 is 419,713, as 90,000 new voters were added to the electoral rolls for the upcoming election. Mohammad Riaz, a journalist, believes that no one is ready to compete with Hoti as the mega projects completed in his tenure had earned him a strong vote bank. Meanwhile, Atif Khan has also done some ground work here and is expected to put up a strong fight. On NA 22 (0ld NA10), Advocate Ali Mohammad Khan, former MNA from PTI mostly popular for his TV talk show appearances, will face three strong opponents: Maulana Mohamed Qasim of MMA, former MNA; Malik Aman Khan of the ANP; Jamshid Khan of PMLN; and PPP’s Shaoib Alam. In 2013 general election, Ali Mohamed Khan secured 46,531 votes while Maulana Mohammad Qasim of the JUIF got 39,269 votes. Like Hoti, Ali Mohamed Khan also spent the last five years away from the constituency as he remained in Islamabad for most of his time. Many voters complain that he was available 24/7 on TV screens, but was absent from his constituency when needed. Many in the PTI leadership were opposed to allotment of a ticket to him but his strong connection with the party chairman ensured that he was issued a ticket. The decision has nonetheless led to a rift in the party as many supporters have changed their loyalties to other parties. Others in the race include Jamshaid Mohmand, a brother of Imran Momand, an independent MPA who got killed in a suicide attack after 2013 elections. The voters registration here are 389,688, while 83,000 new votes were added to the rolls. Azmat Ali Shah, a senior journalist who has closely observed Mardan politics, says the odds were stacked against Ali Mohamed Khan since many people were unsatisfied with his past performance. He says many voters had confronted him in corner meetings. Another aspirant for the party ticket from Mardan, Iftikhar Momand had led a group of voters to the Banigala estate of Imran Khan seeking withdrawal of the ticket to Ali Mohammad Khan, but Imran Khan apparently assured Iftikhar Momand that the PTI would award him a ticket for the Senate election. PTI will still require hard work to defeat ANP’s Malik Aman and MMA’s Maulana Mohammad Qasim, Shah says. Commenting on PTI’s performance in the last five years, Mohammad Riaz Khan, a journalist since two decades, told Daily Times that no improvement had been witnessed in the health sector in Mardan. “Mardan hospital has no resource persons to serve the patients,” he said, adding that the education sector was also no different from what it used to be five years ago. “Attendance ratio at government schools is satisfactory, but the claims that scores of students were admitted to government schools from private institutes were baseless.” Meanwhile, even many staunch rivals of PTI told Daily Times that for the first time in the history of Mardan, people were recruited in education and health institutes on pure merit. Published in Daily Times, July 25th 2018.