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Bilawal not contesting from Lyari as ‘PPP not optimistic it can reclaim its stronghold’

By Zubair Ashraf
December 26, 2023

Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has decided not to contest the upcoming general elections from Lyari, a constituency which was considered until recently a traditional stronghold of the party in Karachi.

Instead, the young Bhutto scion has filed his nomination papers for NA-128 (Lahore-XII), NA-194 (Larkana-I) and NA-196 (Qambar Shahdadkot-I).

Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari talks to media persons in Larkana on December 24, 2023. —Facebook/Pakistan Peoples Party - PPP
Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari talks to media persons in Larkana on December 24, 2023. —Facebook/Pakistan Peoples Party - PPP

According to some political analysts, the decision to not field Bilawal in NA-239 (Karachi South-I) that covers most part of Lyari Town suggests that either the PPP has lost interest in the constituency since losing it to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in the 2018 election or it has not regained the confidence to reclaim it in the upcoming polls.

On the other hand, the party refutes these notions. Sindh PPP general secretary Waqar Mehdi told The News on Monday that his party is in a strong position in Lyari. He cited the results of the previous local bodies elections in which PPP candidates won the majority of the seats and secured the helm of the Lyari Town municipality.

Mehdi claimed that PPP would emerge victorious not just from Lyari, but from other areas of the city in the February 8, 2024 polls. He said that the party had a vast pool of promising candidates who had filed their nomination papers from the city, and they would be awarded tickets after the completion of the scrutiny process.

On a question about the inclusion of new members and office- bearers in the party, predominantly from Urdu-speaking communities or former Muttahida Qaumi Movement workers, he said the PPP had always enjoyed the backing of Urdu-speakers and many among the party leadership were from this community.

Talking to The News, political analyst and journalist Sameer Mandhro said that after the defeat in the 2018 election, the PPP is not confident it would win the upcoming election in the constituency.

Last time, Bilawal contested the election on workers’ insistence, but he lost. He said Lyari has become complicated and the PPP cannot risk losing in that constituency again.

Mandhro said they do not want to take the risk again; therefore, they have fielded Bilawal in the constituencies where the party believes he could win. The PPP claims it has done a lot of development works in Karachi, but it seems that in its own assessment it is not in a position to win in Lyari, he added.

He said there is speculation about Aseefa Bhutto not contesting elections in Karachi because the party does not want to take any risk. He said if the PPP fielded Bilawal in Lyari and he lost the election, the JI would humiliate the ruling Sindh party for failing to reclaim its own stronghold in the city.

Political analyst and journalist Zia ur Rehman commented that the PPP had received a setback in the 2018 election when Bilawal lost to the PTI’s Abdul Shakoor Shad, who himself was once a PPP stalwart. “They were not expecting this that they would lose and with such a margin,” he said, adding that the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan had stood second and the PPP third.

Zia opined, “It seems that the PPP does not consider Lyari a safe seat for them anymore.” He added that not field Bilawal in Lyari may not be a good decision in terms of Sindh’s urban political dynamics. “The PPP has a mayor in Karachi for the very first time, yet to not have enough confidence to win their strongest hold in the city seems incomprehensible or the party has their own assessment in accordance with the decision.”

Mohsin Baloch, a resident of Lyari’s Chakiwara, said that despite being a PPP bastion in Karachi since the 1970s and having elected the party founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, his daughter Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari to the parliament, the neighbourhood lacks basic amenities.

“Currently there is electricity loadshedding of 16 hours each day. No gas in homes. And people are very angry at the authorities and powers that be,” Baloch said, adding that the PPP had lost interest in the constituency because of the people’s sentiments of deprivation. “The constituency has been handed over to the workers and the senior leadership is not serious about it.”