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July 27, 2018

After three-decade rule, Muttahida on back foot as PTI takes over Karachi


July 27, 2018

As the dust settles on Wednesday’s unpredictable general elections, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which ruled the port city for the past three decades with a strong hold, has now been almost wiped out.

Results announced by the Election Commission of Pakistan indicate that the MQM appears to have lost most of its National and Sindh Assembly seats in Karachi to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which has emerged as the largest political force in the metropolis in the polls.

Amid strong criticism of ECP’s vote count process by rival political parties, especially the MQM-P, the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, the Imran Khan-led PTI has won 12 out of 21 NA seats from Karachi, mainly from former strongholds of the MQM, as per results available by the time this report was filed.

The party has also bagged 20 Sindh Assembly seats from Karachi, while MQM-P has only won 14 and PPP has secured only six from the city. Results of six provincial constituencies were at the time of filing.

Because of the new delimitations, carried out in light of the preliminary results of last year’s census, a peaceful security situation after the Rangers-led operation and MQM-P’s internal crisis, almost all political analysts had concurred that Wednesday’s polls in the city would be held in a sort of new territory. For the first time in the past three decades, it was very difficult for political pundits to predict the winners. Indeed, when the results began pouring in, they were astonishing for everyone.

Split vote bank

During campaigning, the MQM-P, weakened by internal crisis, split among its ranks and lack of funding, had focused on its own traditional Mohajir constituencies, especially in Korangi, Central and East districts using the catchphrase “Apna vote Apno Ke Liye.” However, according to the preliminary results, it could only retain four NA seats, including NA-239 (Malir and Shah Faisal Colony), NA-240 (Landhi, Korangi), NA-251 (Orangi Town) and NA-253 (New Karachi and North Karachi), mainly comprising lower-income Mohajir neighbourhoods. It has lost most of its traditional NA seats to PTI.

The MQM-P leaders have alleged that polls in the city were manipulated during the vote counting process because their political agents were prevented from being in the polling stations when the votes were counted. They have also claimed that “hidden forces” are mainly behind the plan to give PTI a leading position in the city by providing them unreal results.

However, political analysts who study the city’s politics closely believe there are several other factors behind PTI’s surge in the city. Interviews with activists of various political parties, including MQM-P and PTI, journalists and analysts, suggest that the MQM’s inner crisis, the emergence of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan and the tilt of the youth, Mohajir middle-class and Shia, Bohra and Ismaili communities towards PTI are main factors behind MQM’s dismal performance.

“After the formation of Pak Sarzameen Party and post-August 22, 2016 speech crisis, MQM workers and supporters were confused,” said an MQM-P veteran activist in Liaquatabad. “The closure of party offices, lack of funds and workforce for running electoral campaigns and bringing voters to polling stations were also some reasons [for its performance].”

He admitted that most of the party workers came out to vote but did not actively try to get other MQM supporters to vote for the party’s candidates.

In contrast, PTI had fielded wealthy candidates from the constituencies, outsourced their electoral campaigns, distributed voting cards and had arranged transportation for voters, according to activists in the areas. Moreover, PTI also successfully wooed middle-class voters, mainly from Gulshan-e-Iqbal, North Nazimabad, Gulistan-e-Johar and other areas.

“This is not the first time. The middle class also voted for Jamaat-e-Islami, which was part of MMA, during 2002 polls when the MQM was well-organised and armed,” a journalist who lives in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, told The News. In 2002, JI snatched five NA seats from traditionally Mohajir areas. In the 2013 polls, residents voted for PTI, making it the second largest political party in the city.

This year, PTI performed well in Pashtun areas, except Landhi Industrial Area. The party’s wave in the Pashtun localities that are part MQM’s traditional constituencies also provided it an edge to grab seats from MQM. For example, Pashtun voters in Patel Para and Old Sabzi Mandi areas of NA-245 followed the voting trend in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and voted for PTI without seeing who the candidates in the constituencies were. “These neighbourhoods also helped JI win in the 2002 general polls in the constituency,” said Ashraf Ali, an Awami National Party leader.

PTI also persuaded religious communities such as Shias, Bohris and Ismailis, who were traditional supporters of MQM and in some constituencies, PPP, to vote for its candidates. Forming an alliance with Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen and wooing Shia clerics also helped some PTI candidates win in their respective constituencies.

Analysts also believe that the emergence of TLP has also damaged MQM’s votes in some lower-income neighbourhoods such as Korangi, Liaquatabad, New Karachi, Baldia Town and Old City area. Before the emergence of MQM, voters in these areas supported Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan, a Barelvi party. The recent inroads made by TLP in the city are also being seen as an attempt to revive Barelvi politics in the city. “They split the Mohajir votes, from 5,000 to 10,000 votes in every national and provincial constituency,” the MQM-P veteran activist said, referring to TLP.

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