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Wednesday September 28, 2022

Alienating a city

August 19, 2022

Karachi is in a shambles right now. Only a five-six kilometer drive from one district to another shows a picture of disarray as if it was not a torrential monsoon but a war that hit the city.

However for optimists there is still a silver lining here: amid all political divisiveness there remains one consensus all across the board – that only a strong local bodies government can ensure governance and public service-delivery. But here comes the uncomfortable question: do we have a transparent mechanism to ensure transparent local bodies polls? A mechanism that ensures a level playing field and representation to all? Or will it just be a mundane practice ensuring procedural democracy in the province? Sadly, the answer is no.

At a time when the city needs a stronger representation holding the mandate of the entire city than ever before, it is alarming to see that the next local bodies poll is a classic textbook definition of disenfranchisement in action. In the hurry to conduct the polls, the state authorities are barring parties and people from getting their due share of fair electoral representation according to Article 218(3). Karachi is now divided into seven districts: Central. South, West, East, Korangi, Malir and Keemari. With a huge question mark over the census results, first of all the election itself becomes a dishonest exercise because seat allocation according to the population is not accurate at all.

According to data from the ECP, as many as 31 Union Councils of Karachi city that includes rural suburbs have a total population of approximately 1,712,138 while eligible voters remain 3, 74,048. On the other hand, there are at least 36 Union Councils that include highly dense areas of Landhi, Orangi, Shah Faisal, North Nazimabad, Gulberg where the population is shown to be approximately 2,528,293 with 2,040,149 eligible voters. Increasing the number of voters in some union councils and decreasing in other union councils will never allow the local government election to be free and fair. Obviously where the eligible voters are higher, that union council will require more votes for the candidate to win, which is not the case in any other province of Pakistan.

The injustice can be clearly seen and the intention to hijack the local bodies election is very much evident. The rural suburbs that included coastal areas represented by the District Councils have been removed and have been amalgamated with Karachi and Hyderabad. 246 Union Councils will be up for grabs in the next polls. In light of the new census and amalgamation of the new seats after the wrap up of District Council, as many as 19 Union Council seats have been added to Malir, 0 for Korangi, increase of 12 to District East, District South lost five Union Councils, District Central lost six Union Councils, while District West and Keemari increased 10 and nine Union Councils respectively. The disparity is so blatant and huge that it is hard to ignore.

As a student of politics and a citizen of Karachi, I consider this composition a travesty with the people of the city. Let alone lack of uniformity, the coming polls will be snatching the right of the people of the city to get genuine electoral representation as according to their due share. I repeat this is disenfranchisement and nothing else. The seat to population ratio should be fair all across the districts. It is a shame that the electoral exercise is already marred with genuine concerns long before it is actually happening.

All mainstream political parties are contesting the local bodies. One party will dominate over others but will it ensure a genuine strong mandate from the people of Karachi that can ensure provision of basic resources? The city needs to govern not to be ruled, and that governance can only be ensured if the people of the city take ownership of it. Anything else would be the continuation of the status quo – politics over development, gerrymandering over developmental politics and ethnic divisiveness over inclusion. In the race to get mayorship of the city, it is pertinent that all parties – especially the ruling PPP – don’t alienate a huge section of the city.

Our political elite’s penchant to ignore the local bodies polls especially in Karachi is responsible for the state of affairs of the city today. It is a shame that parties have to negotiate with the governing PPP to implement a Supreme Court of Pakistan’s order on Article 140-A. Making the election a procedural exercise will further exacerbate marginalization in the city; after all those security gains, is it worth it?

Last but not the least, the buck stops at the fact that institutions and civil policymakers in Islamabad prefer to look at Karachi purely through a security challenge perspective. Its development, its electoral mechanism, its civic functioning is ignored because either it’s too boring or too complex to comprehend. As a Karachi resident, please allow me to stay that the violence in fact stems from the political marginalization of the people of the city, as can be witnessed through this recent act of disenfranchisement.

Perhaps the gains will be substantive if the root causes are addressed through serious efforts by institutions all across the board by considering genuine political players as part of the solution, not part of the problem.

The writer is a senior member of Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P).

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