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July 27, 2020

Political vacuum in Karachi


July 27, 2020

It has become almost impossible to restore Karachi as the ‘City of Lights’ and resolve its basic issues like water, electricity, sewerage, transport, etc., due to lack of political will and ownership, especially in the absence of an elective local governments system.

Another challenge will emerge for the political stakeholders after the present local governments (LGs) would be dissolved on August 31 and administrators would be appointed till the next elections. Before it, delimitation of constituencies would be carried out, as per orders of the Election Commission of Pakistan.

Sources say the Sindh government has cited some financial constraints for increase in the number of seats and union councils, and it is deliberating on some amendments to the LGs system before the next polls.

If elections are not held in October or November this year, and are held in mid-2021, it could be decisive elections to set the tone for the next general elections in Karachi. There will be a race among the top contenders from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and others like Jamaat-e-Islami, Pak-Sarzameen Party (PSP) and Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which had surprised many by getting a mentionable number of votes in 2018 polls.

The PTI, which bagged 14 National Assembly and 22 Sindh Assembly seats and emerged as the single largest party in Karachi in 2018, is confident that they would win the mayor’s slot. "We have already constituted our parliamentary board and will go all out to win the LG polls.

“We will not allow the PPP to delay polls," PTI MPA Khurram Sherzaman told the writer on Sunday.

The PTI knows it well how important the LG polls are for it to increase its success chances in the next general elections in Karachi, as their MNAs and MPAs have not done much until now. However, they believe they could do a better job for Karachiites if they win the LG polls.

Similarly, it will be a do-or-die election for the MQM-P as well after they have fallen from 17 NA seats in 2013 to four in 2018. However, the party succeeded in winning the last LG polls, and it is confident that it would bounce back and retain its mayor’s slot.

PSP Chairman and former mayor Mustafa Kamal, who despite his party's defeat in 2018 elections, is confident to perform well in the LGs elections and working hard to remain in the race.

The PPP, which had never won the mayor’s slot in Karachi, and also lost its key constituency Lyari in the 2018 elections by losing both NA and Sindh Assembly seats, is also planning to win back Lyari, Malir, Baldia to keep themselves in the race.

The JI, which, in the past, performed well in the LGs and twice got its mayor elected, is also trying hard to gain its lost position. In the general elections, it got only one Sindh Assembly seat, but has more organised work in the local governments. But, can they make a difference? It will be interesting to watch.

The TLP can again give a surprise to the stakeholders, like in the 2018 elections, in which they won two Sindh Assembly seats, and its candidates bagged over 15 to 20,000 votes in each constituency, including Lyari, where its candidate got more votes than Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

It will be interesting to watch whether political parties and groups will form alliances or make seat adjustments during the LG polls. However, it is likely that all parties will demand restoration of powers of the LGs, which have weakened after passage of the 2013 LG amendment bill.

Under the much-talked-about 18th Amendment, the provinces were supposed to transfer financial and political powers to the local governments and up to union councils’ level. At present, the councillors are completely powerless.

The city, which should have been declared as a metropolitan city long ago, like any other metropolis around the world, has become victim of political and ethnical biases. Even those who claim themselves to be true representative of the mega city had not done justice to it, while others used it for their own petty interests.

Karachi, for the first time since 1970, voted for the party which also formed the government at the centre i.e. the PTI in 2018 elections, which got 14 NA and 22 seats in the Sindh Assembly, and practically replaced the MQM-Pakistan.

The PTI and the TLP certainly made a difference in Karachi's politics. PTI's presence in the city was felt for the first time in 2013, when it took eight lakh votes. Though it won only one NA seat, it was quite visible that the Karachi middle class wanted change in Karachi.

However, PTI's performance in the last two years had been disappointing for its own cadres as well, which could be judged from the fact that two of its MNAs, Najeeb Haroon, who is also among PTI's founders, and Dr Aamir Liaquat, sent their resignations to Prime Minister Imran Khan and admitted that they could not deliver. Although their resignations were not accepted, it clearly showed the frustration among the PTI Karachi representation.

Therefore, a clear political vacuum is being felt in Karachi, as a new political scenario may emerge in the city during the next local government elections.

Pakistan's commercial hub and the port city is in a complete mess today. Over the years, it has turned into a katchi abadi (slum) of nearly 25 million people of different ethnicities.

There is no easy solution in sight due to poor planning and massive corruption in almost all civic agencies and the government departments, resulting in unprecedented delay in completion of each mega project.

Once known as the 'City of Lights', it has been pushed into complete darkness with the collapse of the entire system. Can the vacuum be filled and the city become the real Karachi Metropolitan City? Will Karachi again vote for the PTI or look for a change again, is yet to be seen.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang. Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO