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July 10, 2017

Supporting democratic forces that seldom deliver


July 10, 2017

KARACHI: Jumping over puddles of sewage and rainwater accumulated on the dilapidated roads of the Karachi Administration Employees Cooperative Housing Society’s (KAECHS) Block 3 – a colony nestled in the Mehmoodabad locality of provincial assembly constituency PS-114 – a resident, Umair Khalid, strode with purpose towards his designated polling station to exercise his democratic right to elect an area representative through the by-election held on Sunday.

“Each and every time elections come about, we [the constituency’s residents] are bombarded with promises of development and infrastructural uplift. To date, though, none of the people we voted into power has actually delivered, as is evident by the dismal state of our neighbourhood,” said the 42-year-old man with a look of disappointment clear on his face.

“While the price of property in our area [KAECHS Block 3] has been on the rise, the locality itself resembles a slum area,” he continued while pointing towards a teeming heap of garage running along a swamped road. 

A regular voter who described himself as a believer in the potential of democracy, Khalid said he was most infuriated by the fickleness exhibited by political parties after any election cycle. “Once the elections are over, the very same people who would be extending us assurances of development a few days earlier would be least bothered about actually addressing our longstanding grievances,” he said.  

“For these insincere politicians, the only thing that matters is winning an election; working for the people living in their constituency is something they seem to consider beneath them.” 

Another voter, Arfa Kamal, said former MPAs elected from the PS-114 constituency had been unable to bring about any improvement in the civic and infrastructural condition of the constituency’s high-income localities, let alone low-income areas such as Chanesar Goth, Manzoor Colony and Azam Basti. “The sewage you see on our roads has been there for years now; our children are growing up in these unhygienic conditions and no one seems to care,” she said. 

“We are not buying the tall claims made by the same old faces. But we are still here to cast our votes because we believe in the power of democracy. We realise that only a democratic system allows for us to voice our concerns and criticise bad governance. Still, though, it would be a welcome change to see some sincere efforts by the people we elect to the assemblies.”

Disgruntled as they may be, the constituency’s residents were out in considerable numbers and made the PS-114 by-poll an impressive show of democratic responsibility. 

Political leaders and workers manning their respective parties’ polling camps felt that the voter turnout was higher as compared to other by-elections held in Karachi after the 2013 general elections.

“The number of people coming out to cast their votes shows that these citizens stand for democracy,” said a Pakistan Peoples Party worker, Muhammad Aslam.

However, Aslam and his fellow workers were only too eager to duck questions about the dilapidated state of the constituency. 

Passing the buck

“The Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement were victorious in PS-114 in 2013 and 2008, respectively,” said a supporter of the ruling PPP at a polling station in Chanesar Goth.

PML-N supporters, though, were quick to dismiss his assertion with the argument that their candidate, Irfanullah Marwat, was disqualified by an election tribunal in July 2014.

“Later, he [Marwat] left the party as well. However, we admit that his performance over that one year in power was a disappointment for the constituency’s residents,” said PML-N’s Karachi Vice-President Sabir Qureshi.

Standing next to him, PML-N leader Alam Zaib Khan said the chairman of UC-1 in Akhtar Colony, which falls in PS-114, belonged to his party and he had lodged several complaints about the Sindh government’s failure to allocate funds for uplift work in the area.

“The PPP has a history of exacting revenge on residents of constituencies where the party fails to register a win. Since the PPP has never been victorious in PS-114, the ruling party never made any effort to improve the poor living standards seen in the constituency.”

The Jamaat-e-Islami too secured some wins in the local government polls in the PS-114 limits, said Muhammad Muslim Mujahid, the JI’s deputy chief for the zone. “We are hopeful of clinching this seat. If we are victorious, we will work in sincerity for the people of a constituency that has long been neglected by those they elected to power.”

Sitting in the party’s camp in the Mehmoodabad area, MQM-Pakistan workers maintained that former minister Rauf Siddiqui actually carried out development work during his tenure from 2008 to 2013. 

The notion, though, was dispelled by a resident standing nearby who recalled that most of the MQM-P’s development work did not survive the next spell of rainfall.

“Our area’s persistent civic woes are a testament to the collective failure of elected representatives. Various political parties have a stake here, be it in local government or the provincial assembly. However, instead of acknowledging what is a collective failure, they try to blame each other for the dilapidated state of this constituency,” said the resident.