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April 12, 2018

Sindh’s third force


April 12, 2018

As the 2018 elections draw closer, we have witnessed the formation of new alliances and political fronts as well as many party defections. But there aren’t many new faces who have opted for a political career.

There has been a drastic shift within our political society in Pakistan. An organised campaign to oust the PML-N is underway and it remains uncertain whether this will yield the results that some quarters are hoping for.

Political activism; the growing friction among parties; and the surge in turncoats – who are referred to as seasonal frogs in Sindhi – have become visible. Politicians from the incumbent government in Sindh seem to have forgetten the miserable conditions of the people and are now preaching their achievements as if their (mis)rule has brought about a golden era.

In Sindh, a large number of nationalist activists, writers and civil society members belong to parties that do not actively participate in elections. These include the Awami Tehreek – led by Rasool Bux Palijo – the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) – led by late Bashir Qureshi’s son Sunan Qureshi – and the Abdul Khaliq Junejo-led Jeay Sindh Mahaz (JSM). Other parties are not even registered with the ECP, including the Awami Jamhoori Party (AJP).

Three parties that have fielded their candidates for the elections include the Sindh Tarraqi Pasand Party (STP) led by Qadir Magsi, the Sindh United Party (SUP) led by Syed Jalal Shah, and the Qaumi Awami Tehreek (QAT) led by Ayaz Latif Palijo (who parted ways with his father’s party Awami Tehreek and lost a majority of his workers). These secular and progressive parties have not entered into an alliance with each other. The tragedy of Sindh’s politics is that it is dominated by disunity and factionalism. This explains why there has been no credible political alternative to the politics of the rich in the province.

These parties largely comprise the downtrodden lower classes and only five percent of members belong to the middle class. Sindh’s urban middle class maintains a distance from politics. It is mostly the landed aristocracy – pirs, tribal chieftains and neo-rich feudals – who engage in politics.

The results of the recent census showed an increase in the urban population of Sindh. There are many cities that form over 50 percent of the provincial constituencies. People in these areas are likely to vote beyond their clan associations as not much has been done to provide them with adequate facilities, including jobs. But the middle class lacks political representation.

Intellectuals have blamed society’s inability to form a third force – an alternative to the forces of the status quo – to bring about a political change in Sindh and confront the ruling PPP and the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA). Analysts believe that there is a political vacuum in Sindh that only a third force can fill. The PTI was once welcomed as a third force in Sindh. But after the same old faces were seen in the party’s rank and file, the party lost that its popular appeal. Over time, the PTI has become another party with status-quo politicians.

Despite an annual development budget of $2 billion, Sindh has not changed. Although some of Sindh’s roads have improved, rural poverty, unemployment and a poor literacy rate continue to reflect the poor performance of the PPP. Attempts to showcase the positive changes that have taken place at a few hospitals in the province over the last 10 years have done little to change perceptions. The general discontent among the educated classes is deep. Social media presents many real and fake stories that depict injustice, corruption and foul play. Above all, people can see the growing inequalities within their respective constituencies. They also know how politicians have collaborated with the bureaucracy to make their fortunes.

Every informed citizen talks about change and cultivating an alternative to the status quo. But we do not see many people becoming the change that they wanted to see in society. The only exception is Ali Qazi, a journalist-turned-politician has been doing his homework and analysing the dynamics of electoral politics. Qazi recently announced the creation of the Tabdeeli Pasand Party (TPP) during a large public gathering in Hyderabad and plans to contest elections. With the exception of bonded labour activist Veeru Kohli, no other known politicians or civil society activist was seen with him at his rally, which was attended by around 20,000 people.

Through his columns, Ali Qazi has been drawing attention to the need for change in Sindh since the 1990s. He is vehemently against what he calls the ‘bhotar’ class’ (feudal hold over politics). Qazi is among the first Sindhi politician who hails from the urban professional class. In addition to being an entrepreneur and successful businessman in the media industry, Ali Qazi is a passionate dream-chaser.

The Tabdeeli Pasand Party comes across as a non-mainstream third force in the politics of Sindh. It operates on an agenda to ensure social justice; good governance; and the provision of clean water, health and education. Ali Qazi is a pioneer of modern Sindhi print and electronic journalism. In the past, he has united the people of Sindh by encouraging them to celebrate Sindh Cultural Day. He does not rely on ideology-driven, worker-based parties. Qazi’s focus is on bringing change through votes. His goal is to educate voters to recognise the value and impact of the votes that they give to politicians who have repeatedly failed them.

The success of the third force depends on many factors, including whether nationalist activists will respond to Qazi’s call. Will he be able to turn their anger and frustration into hope and victory? At this stage, Qazi and his party view victory in their own distinct way and some civil society members have exercised caution about supporting him.

There is bound to be a tri-party competition. Meanwhile, the PPP has not only solidified its own position but has also emerged as a common enemy for opponents and forged a sense of unity among them. If we are to view the outcome of the upcoming elections on the basis of the alignment of traditional electables, the PPP seems to be winning. But the entry of new players, the incumbency factor and the party’s dismal performance could produce countless disappointments.

It is unclear whether Ali Qazi will be able to establish himself as a third force or the GDA will give a tough time to the PPP. But one thing is clear: like KP and Punjab, Sindh is going to see a political competition during the polls. The stakes are high in politics and are attached to power, status and money.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter @mushrajpar