Ghulam Bilour cozying up to JUI-Noorani leaders ahead of Thursday’s by-elections

After being routed in the general elections of May 2013, the Awami National Party is planning to stage a comeback in the all-important constituency of NA-1 (Peshawar-I). Former federal minister for railways, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, is reprising his candidacy for the first national assembly seat in the country.

But while none of his opponents this time around are as high-profile as Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf chief Imran Khan, to whom Bilour lost the last election, no one expects this to be a cakewalk for the ANP stalwart.

According to senior journalist Rasheed Khan Safi, Tehreek-e-Insaaf supporters in NA-1 feel slighted by Imran’s decision to vacate the seat. “Imran tried to do some damage control by visiting the constituency ahead of the by-elections, but it has not worked,” he said.

“The impression one gets is that the PTI government in KPK is an embarrassment for Imran Khan,” said Ayaz Badshah, publisher and editor of Mashreq – the most widely read Urdu daily in the province. “Imran has only visited the constituency three times since the elections in May and there is resentment towards the PTI government, which has led to Samad Mursalen’s decision to contest the elections on an independent ticket.” Samad was one of the PTI’s founding members, who grew disillusioned with the party’s performance. Not being awarded a ticket was the final straw.

No matter who comes to power, observers feel it will be ‘more of the same’ for Peshawar

The nationality of Gul Badshah, the PTI candidate, is also a subject of controversy. Gul is said to be of Afghan origin and there is no record of him or his family having lived in Pakistan before the 1980s. If any evidence to this effect emerges, Ayaz Badshah feels this could be a major blow to the Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s efforts to regain NA-1.

On May 11, PTI chief Imran Khan outclassed Ghulam Ahmed Bilour by 90,500 votes to 21,435 votes. While internal strife within the PTI and despondence with their policies may split the PTI vote bank, Ayaz Badshah maintains that the 20-odd thousand votes that Bilour obtained “are still very much there”. The ANP still has loyalists in the city, which may help them come election day, he said. Bilour also enjoys the support of two other mainstream political parties, the Pakistan People’s Party and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl.

“The PTI win on May 11 was not an ideological one, but a personality-based one. People voted for Imran Khan, not the PTI,” said Safi. But many feel the ANP has had its chance. “The Bilours have been tried and tested. They have ruled for five years, yet the city lies in ruins. There has been no infrastructure development either,” complains Ayaz Badshah.

Other candidates contesting the by-elections from NA-I, include Jehangir Raza Khan of the TehreekeTahaffuz-ePakistan; Kamran Siddiq, Mohammad Ibrahim Qasami of the Muttahida Deeni Mahaz, Mohammad Ateeq Ur Rahman, Malik Najeeb Gul Khalil and Yaseem Sherazi.

The PML-N has not fielded a candidate for NA-1.