Beginning of MQM’s trials?

February 25, 2024

MQM-P may well be confident about its mandate but what about others?

Beginning of MQM’s trials?


hen a jubilant yet composed Mustafa Kamal announced Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan’s ‘anticipated’ victory a few hours after the polling had ended, the MQM-P had no idea whether their ally – the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz – too had done well. In fact, the PML-N leadership gathered at the party’s Model Town, Lahore, secretariat was quite anxious. As election results started pouring in, they did not match the party’s expectations.

For the MQM-P, the PML-N winning a majority of the National Assembly seats would be an ideal outcome. They could then ensure the passage of a few amendments to the laws in the parliament. These related to empowering local governments and the formation of the Provincial Finance Commission to disburse funds to the district governments.

However, independent candidates backed by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf secured more than 90 seats in the National Assembly, the PML-N 75 seats, the Pakistan Peoples Party 54 and the MQM-P 17. The MQM-P had taken a major blow in the 2018 general elections, securing just six seats in the National Assembly while the PTI emerged as the leading party in Karachi with 14 seats. The MQM-P had claimed that some of the seats had been ‘gifted’ to the PTI by the establishment.

This time, MQM-P’s traditional opponents in the city, including Jamaat-i-Islami, are claiming that the party has been ‘blessed’ with these seats, implying that these have not been won fairly. Mustafa Kamal could care less.

Kamal, who became popular as a pro-active mayor of Karachi, before rebelling against the party founder, Altaf Hussain, and launching his own party, has been stressing good governance, the need to deliver civic services and development.

Most of the newly elected MNAs from the MQM-P had been in Kamal’s Pak Sarzameen Party before it merged with the other MQM factions.

Kamal has been very vocal about tabling the proposed amendment in the National Assembly and persuading other parties to support it so that there is no hurdle to its passage. This was a prominent part of the MQM-P manifesto.

The MQM-P may well be confident about its mandate but many others are not. Bringing about the change promised by the MQM-P could therefore be quite a challenge.

“The MQM-P has to take its agenda to other parties and argue for the amendments it has been planning to table in the parliament,” says journalist Mazhar Abbas. He says the MQM-P should engage all political parties to build a broader consensus on the matter.

“Constitutional amendments require two-thirds of the votes in the National Assembly. The MQM-P should consider starting a continuous dialogue. It should listen to what other parties propose and see if a middle ground can be reached,” says Abbas.

Abbas, however, believes that the MQM-P’s options may be limited.

“The prime minister will be crucially dependent on the PPP support. It is evident that the PPP will make sure that the federal government does not meddle in Sindh’s matters,” says Abbas.

Abbas says that the MQM-P can sustain its vote bank since it is well aware of the politics of neighbourhoods. But the party, he says, should also consider bringing in structural reforms and democratise such capacity.

Speaking to The News on Sunday on the condition of anonymity, a member of the party’s Rabita Committee said the party had been “offered more than three ministries in the federal cabinet.” However, he said, Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, Dr Farooq Sattar and Mustafa Kamal were not interested in these. Intra-party consultation with regard to how these ministries should be distributed is going on.

Another senior leader of the MQM-P says that the PML-N has declined the PPP’s request to replace the Sindh governor and agreed with the MQM-P to keep Kamran Tessori in the office.

It is said that the PML-N leaders are of the view that this is not the time to forget MQM-P’s support for the no confidence motion against former prime minister Imran Khan and for the federal government that followed.

An important challenge for the MQM-P is the difficulty it has been facing in effectively reaching out to the youth, particularly in urban Sindh.

The party’s substantial disconnect with the youth became evident after the 2013 elections when the then federal government launched an operation against criminal elements in Karachi. It was during the operation that Mustafa Kamal revolted against the party. The party then adopted a defensive approach. A catastrophic speech by the party founder in August 2016 then resulted in further chaos, including splintering of the party into several groups.

It is almost a decade later that the MQM-P has won 17 seats.

Journalist, Ebad Ahmed, who hails from Karachi but is currently based in Prague, says that while the MQM-P has secured a desirable number of seats, it still lacks the kind of appeal to the millennials and Gen-Z voters in urban Sindh needed to sustain this success. “Young voters are the elephant in the room. The MQM-P has the mandate for now; the question is whether it can sustain it in the future elections or not. Its Muhajir nationalism no longer seems enough to attract young voters influenced by the discourse on Tiktok and Twitter.”

Haider Abbas Rizvi, a senior Rabita Committee member, says the party leaders understand the importance of engaging with the youth. He says that the concern has been discussed at various party forums.

Regarding the proposed constitutional amendments, Rizvi says that if the PPP opposes those, the MQM will reach out to individual members in the parliament. “The MQM-P will lobby other parties, including the opposition.”

On the PSP merging into MQM-P, Rizvi says the outcome has been positive. “Even if some people say that this has not benefitted the MQM-P, at least we are no longer working against each other.”

The writer is a Karachi-based journalist who covers politics, human rights and environment. He tweets at @sheharyaralii

Beginning of MQM’s trials?