For the first time since 1988, Karachi's political scene looked unpredictable and no one knows which party will grab most of the National Assembly and provincial assembly seats in 2018 elections. Stakes are high for 21 NA seats and over 40 Sindh Assembly seats, as for the first time field is wide open for all mainstream and Karachi-based parties.
Now, which party will fill the possible vacuum, created due to a split in the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which is passing through its worst-ever crisis. The chances of their merger are apparently very bleak unless better sense prevails after the Election of Pakistan (ECP) decision about the party name and symbol.
Karachi, the city of over 20 million people, could have more National Assembly and Sindh Assembly seats had proper population census been held. Thus, one of the biggest issues of Karachi is its 'ownership’. Who owns Karachi?
Let’s have a close look at the changing trends in the city politics and possible political scene in Karachi in 2018 elections.
Karachi's result this time will not be the action replay of 2013 or 2008, but it can be like 2002, though parties this time could be different. In 2002, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) had grabbed seven seats and that too at a time when the MQM was very strong. But, like the MQM, the MMA is also not the same or united and powerful like in the past.
What happened in 2002, was the first major shift in city's politics since 1988. The MQM bounced back in 2008, but again received the setback in 2013 elections when Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) hinted at a change in the city by getting around eight lakh votes.
Thus, Karachi's political scene has been changing after 2002. Earlier, in 1993, when the MQM boycotted the NA elections, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) shared seats. But when the MQM participated in provincial assembly elections, it retained most of the seats.
Politics in the 1970s was more ideological and it also reflected on the Karachi political scene, when seats were divided between Jamaat-e-Isami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP) and Pakistan People’s Party.
While politics in Karachi more or less revolve around Karachi issues and even a movement was once launched for Karachi Sooba (province) in the 1960s, it was not ethnic based.
In the post 70 years, the JI and JUP opposed the PPP in Sindh on issues like Sindhi Language Bill and quota system and thus converted Karachi politics into 'Muhajir and Sindhi' politics.
Religious parties lost its grip in the urban Sindh during General Ziaul Haq period. Despite JI's support for Zia's referendum, its supporters did not turn up at polling stations and refused to vote. Even JI's most prominent leader, Prof Ghafoor Ahmad expressed his dissent.
Religious parties got second shock during 1985 non-party based elections when its strong candidates lost to independents from their strong constituencies. JI's poor performance in the last two elections and in the by-elections is a matter of concern for its leadership and the MMA can give some hope for its revival, and they can take some advantage from the MQM division.
The MQM never looked back after 1987 and broke all previous records in 1988 elections, not only because it swept polls but also the amount of votes its candidates got. The results of 1988, and to some extent 1990, elections were not disputed.
The MQM then become victim of its own political culture and the militant factor damaged them the most. It resulted in one of the worst killings. Though the MQM survived as a party, it lost its credibility, which resulted in its constant decline. The NA-246 by-election in 2016 against the PTI reminded many of the 1988 MQM.
The PPP always showed its presence and more or less maintained its vote bank as well as constituencies. While the PPP gave tickets to some Urdu-speaking notables, it could not make inroads into the Muhajir-dominated constituencies.
In most of the elections, it retained two to three NA seats, but now the PPP is optimistic of winning at least five to six seats. The recent delimitation of constituencies in Karachi can also provide some benefit to the PPP.
The PTI and its chief Imran Khan have the potential to attract Karachiites as he did in 2013 elections, but miserably failed in maintaining its vote bank because of the poor organisation and infighting. Imran Khan is now trying hard to regain that confidence and his decision to contest from Karachi is the right step. He has been looking for potential candidates.
PTI's poor performance in the by-elections and in the local bodies elections had alerted Imran. Last year, he decided to visit the city more often. Now, even if the PTI retains its 2013 vote bank, the party would be able to get few seats from here.
Dr Aamir Liaquat Hussain is certainly a known name in Pakistan and for Karachi, but how effective will he be in changing political trends in Karachi would be interesting to watch.
Pak-Sarzameen Party (PSP), led by Mustafa Kamal and Anis Qaimkhani, are also very confident of emerging as a strong political force in Karachi. Their confidence was reflected from the fact that they didn't want any pre-election electoral alliance. However, the PSP and PTI both compliment each other as possible allies. What is common between the PTI and PSP is the demand for making Karachi a complete metropolitan city.
The PSP has come out with interesting narrative, close to politics of the 1960s i.e. Karachi for Karachiites, irrespective of cast and creed. The PSP is demanding general amnesty for around 3,000 MQM militants and workers facing trial on Balochistan or FATA pattern.
Karachi, in the last 40 years, had produced middle class leadership, whether it belongs to religious parties, ethnic parties or mainstream political parties. In the JI, it produced Maulana Mustafa Al-Azhari, Prof Ghafoor Ahmad, Abdus-Sattar Afghani and Naimatullah Khan. It also produced Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani, Prof Shah Fareedul Haq, and the late Zahoorul Hasan Bhopali.
On the other hand, even the PPP leadership from Karachi by and large belongs to middle class, like the late Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, Prof ND Khan, the late Pyar Ali Allana, Masroor Ahsan, the late Amir Haider Kazmi and others.
In post-1988 politics, the MQM, as a party, was the product of middle class and except for few, most of its leadership lived in lower and middle class areas. From Altaf Hussain to the late Azeem Ahmad Tariq, the late Dr Imran Farooq, Dr Farooq Sattar, Saleem Shahzad, Aminul Haq, Afaq Ahmad, Aamir Khan, Anis Qaimkhani, Mustafa Kamal and others belong to the middle class and the became MNAs, MPAs and senators.
If the 1970-era belongs to ideological politics, 1980s and 1990s saw the decline in national politics and was replaced by ethnic, sectarian and nationalist politics.
Changing trends in Karachi politics were quite visible in 2013 elections and after a successful Karachi operation, field is wide open for all parties in 2018, but which party is ready to take the ownership of Karachi's 22 million is a big question.
While elections at the national scene would clearly be between the PTI and PML-N, Karachi's 21 NA seats and urban Sindh's share could make the difference in the possible hung parliament.
The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang