Waking up to new realities

November 19, 2023

In Sindh, the odds are stacked in PPP’s favour, unless…

Waking up to new realities


akistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s loss in 2018 in one of the party’s ‘safe’ constituencies, Lyari, was an eye opener. With elections round the corner, the party is not sure whether he should contest the seat again. Despite this, the party is likely to improve its seat tally in Sindh. This is because anti-PPP political forces, both in rural and urban Sindh, whether they be the Pakistan Muslim League Functional or the Grand Democratic Alliance, are politically weaker and in complete disarray.

Although the PPP is confident that it will win Lyari, its leaders remain indecisive on whether Bilawal should contest it. One of the alternatives is old guard, Nabil Gabol, who has won in the past.

Bilawal is certain to contest from his home constituency, Larkana. He may also run from another safe constituency. The party’s co-chairman, former president Asif Ali Zardari, will contest from his home constituency, Nawabshah. It will be interesting to see if his youngest daughter, Aseefa Bhutto, makes her political debut in 2024 elections, and from which constituency.

The PPP will certainly benefit from the political disappearance of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the fall of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan in urban Sindh. It is targeting eight to ten National Assembly seats out of 22 in Karachi. Currently, the party has five National Assembly seats in the city.

The PPP has a minority mayor in Karachi; the majority still supports the Jamaat-i-Islami and the PTI. The JI mayoral candidate Hafiz Naeem lost due to alleged ‘forced disappearance’ of some PTI UC chairmen and a split in the party in the backdrop of the May 9 events. Had it been smooth sailing between the PTI and the establishment, the PTI could have won the mayor slot with the JI support.

After the demise of the MQM, the balance in Sindh has now decidedly shifted in favour of the PPP. From 1988 to 2013, the MQM was a balancing factor. It typically swept the polls in Karachi and Hyderabad besides winning some seats in Mirpurkhas and Sukkur.

The MQM suffered the most during the four operations (1992, 1994, 1998 and 2013). These operations primarily targeted MQM workers. The party’s grassroots structure stands dismantled. Altaf Hussain’s 2016 speech turned out to be the last nail in the political coffin of the MQM. The PPP has been the political beneficiary of these operations as on the one hand the political balance shifted back to the PPP, and on the other, it further weakened anti-PPP political forces.

The anti-PPP politics in rural Sindh has revolved around a few leaders and groups. After the demise of Pir Pagaro, the founder of the Muslim League Functional, his successor has not made a political impact. Kingri House, the late Pir Pagaro’s residence in Karachi, was once the centre for most alliances forged against the PPP. It no longer represents that kind of political clout. The other such place, 90 Azizabad, has also suffered a similar fate.

Nawaz Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League have failed to become serious contenders in Sindh on account of their lack of political investment in Sindh. For all practical purposes, the Muslim League-Functional always acted as the PML franchise in Sindh. On its own, the PML-N has never tried to make inroads in Sindh. As a result, it has been losing its voting strength although it always had pockets of support in both rural and urban Sindh.

The PPP will certainly take advantage of the political disappearance of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the fall of Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan in urban Sindh. It is targeting eight to ten National Assembly seats out of 22 in Karachi. Currently, it has five National Assembly seats in Karachi.

The Grand Democratic Alliance, comprising smaller groups, has a few electables but some of them, including old rivals Ali Gohar Mahar and Ghous Bux Mahar, have now joined the PPP, leaving the alliance in a disarray.

The PTI had potential when former prime minister Imran Khan first surprised parties like the MQM, in 2013, by polling nearly 0.8 million votes in Karachi alone. But like the PML-N, the PTI, too, never seriously tried to make inroads in rural Sindh.

Over recent years, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl has made waves led by the firebrand Dr Rasheed Somroo. However, it has yet to win a seat in the National or Provincial Assembly.

It will be interesting to see whether an electoral alliance between the Muslim League Functional, the GDA, the JUI-F, the PML-N and the MQM-Pakistan can cause a major dent in the traditionally PPP constituencies.

The PPP has made inroads in rural Sindh constituencies where in the past they had lost. It is also making a strong entry in urban Sindh. The party comfortably won the last mayoral elections in Sukkur, Hyderabad and Mirpurkhas, even if Karachi’s mayoral election remains controversial.

The PPP took advantage of the PTI-establishment row in the May 9 fallout. As a result of the split in the PTI, JI’s mayoral candidate, Hafiz Naeem, could not capitalise on the situation.

In the last 50 years, the PPP has hardly faced a challenge in rural Sindh. However, the politics of urban Sindh has been evolving. After the 1987 local government election, a political balance was created with the MQM capturing 80 percent of the seats in Karachi, Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas and Sukkur. This had allowed other anti-PPP forces to join hands with the MQM. In 2018, that balance shifted in favour of the PTI so that for the first time the party that had formed the government at the Centre had won in Karachi.

Since 1980s, there have been occasions when anti PPP governments were formed in the province. Each time, this was accomplished with the support of the MQM. In 1990, the government was headed by Jam Sadiq Ali; in 1992, by Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah; in 1997, by Liaquat Jatoi; and in 2002 by Dr Arbab Ghulam Raheem. Now that the MQM does not enjoy the same level of electoral support and the PTI has ‘disappeared’, the field is wide open for the PPP.

So, unless something dramatic happens to open the political space for the MQM-P and the PTI or the establishment backs the GDA and the PML-N, the PPP is likely to win more seats in the forthcoming elections in the province than it did in 2018.

The PPP has always had a considerable vote bank in Karachi. It has had deputy mayors in 1979 and 1983. When MQM’s popularity peaked, it won more towns than the JI. At the National and Provincial Assembly levels, however, the PPP had been winning only two to three and eight to ten seats, respectively. For the first time, it is eyeing a more substantial victory. How this shapes the anti-PPP narrative and strategies remains to be seen.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst at GEO, The News and Jang. His X handle: @MazharAbbasGEO

Waking up to new realities