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May 1, 2021

Surprise verdict?

Editorial

 
May 1, 2021

The NA-249 by-election in Karachi was being watched with interest for some time. The seat was vacated after the PTI’s Faisal Vawda, the winning candidate in 2018, resigned. The by-election, however, saw still more controversy with, ironically enough, both the PTI and PML-N this time calling out discrepancies in the counting of votes. Both Maryam Nawaz and PTI leaders have demanded a full inquiry into what happened, and notably why ballot counting took so long given that the turnout was extremely low –put at between 15 and 18 percent according to the unofficial figures available. Even among political observers, there has been quite a lot of talk regarding the inordinately delayed result for a very small number of cast votes.

The result in itself is at the outset surprising, though a further look into the factors that may have led to it does clear the picture somewhat – with some parts still a bit unanswered. Qadir Khan Mandokhail of the PPP took the seat with a little more than 16,156 votes (unverified number, all) in a perilously close race in which the PML-N’s Miftah Ismail claimed 15,473 votes. The third position was claimed by the proscribed TLP, which is still registered with the ECP although it has been declared a banned group. This anomaly also needs to be worked out at some point. The Pak Sar Zameen Party of Syed Mustafa Kamal, stood fourth, with the PTI putting in an extremely poor performance and finishing close to the bottom of the list.

While there was little enthusiasm surrounding this by-poll, there are some factors that may at least explain the PTI’s complete and utter defeat in the constituency. Some have put it down to a combination of poor governance, rising inflation, general disquiet at the miserable conditions the people of the country are in when it comes to their daily sustenance. Then there’s also the fact that the PPP managed to pull off some development work in NA-249 over the past few months; this could easily account for a more favourable showing. As could the ethnic factors, with Mandokhail probably getting some discontent Pakhtun votes from the PTI camp as well. However, when it comes to the bare bones the fact is that the by-election saw a miserably low voter turnout – as far as unofficial numbers go. The low voter turnout is being attributed to Ramazan, Covid-19, the very hot weather in Karachi, and the lack of enthusiasm over any candidate amongst voters. That last reason should be a cause for concern for all parties, including the PPP – which must rethink what it means to win by polling 16 thousand votes in a constituency that has 300,000 voters. This also shows the declining interest of the people in the electoral process, a dangerous trend that never bodes well for democratic rights and traditions.