It isn’t over, yet

May 23, 2021

Can PPP get a foothold in former MQM-P strongholds?

The Pakistan Peoples Party clinched a surprising victory – albeit by a slim margin of 909 votes – in the by-elections held on NA-249. As the party celebrates its recent win, more developments indicate that it is now eyeing electoral gains in the Muhajir-dominated constituencies of the city once considered strongholds of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P).

In a bid to capture political space in Districts East, Central and Korangi, the party has tasked its Karachi division led by Saeed Ghani, the provincial minister for education and labour to make inroads in the Muhajir-dominated constituencies traditionally affiliated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) that voted for the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in the previous polls.

“Karachi is in Bilawal’s focus,” says Sumeta Syed, a former MPA and a recent entry in the PPP from the Mustafa Kamal-led Pak Sarzameen Party.

“We believe we can secure a good electoral position in the city because people are now preferring developmental work over rhetoric. If NA-249 result is to be taken as a barometer it can be seen that people choose representatives who they believe can deliver on civic issues. Clearly, a lack of performance by the MQM and the PTI has opened up a political vacuum which we will fill over the coming times,” she adds.

She says Ghani has the reputation for being an ambitious go-getter and is focusing on the constituencies traditionally lacking in support for the PPP.

Ali Rashid (a former MNA), Waqar Shah (a former MPA), Saleem Bandhani and Syed are recent inductions in the Pakistan Peoples Party from the MQM-Pakistan and Pak Sarzameen Party. In a symbolic show of strength, the three led a victory rally on the streets of Federal B Area on May 2 to celebrate the NA-249 victory. An interesting fact about the rally was that it was organised by a local youth setup previously affiliated with the MQM and the PSP.

Masroor Ahsan, a veteran politician and PPP’s former Karachi chief, has also ended his political hiatus after a meeting with senior party leaders. He was present in the NA-249 campaign for the party and sources in the party say that he will be assigned the task of organising the party in the areas where it struggles to get votes.

Samar Abbas, an analyst, says that the PPP is now aiming to seize the opportunity by driving home its advantage in the Muhajir-dominated constituencies that have never voted for the party – not even during the famous Bhutto wave.

Mazhar Abbas, a senior journalist, discloses that in a recent high-level meeting supervised by former president Asif Ali Zardari, the party supremo directed its Karachi chapter to re-organise the party structure.

“As PTI’s support base continues to dwindle all over the city and the MQM and the PSP remain in a limbo – there is indeed space to exploit,” he notes.

“If tomorrow the party succeeds in holding the next local government election with Keemari being treated a separate district, it won’t be a surprise to see a PPP leader elected the Karachi mayor,” says Abbas.

“However, it will be important to see whether the powers-that-be will be comfortable seeing the PPP dominate both the rural and urban Sindh political landscape. It is a long shot,” he adds.

For Faisal Sabzwari, an MQM-P leader, the recent developments are more of a whimper than a bang. He believes that the PPP’s politics in the urban Sindh is more like empty vessels making much noise.

He rejects the speculations that Bilawal’s party will score big in the next coming polls. He dismisses the new inductions as nothing more than ‘a show’.

“At the end of the day, the PPP works as a Sindhi nationalist party when it comes to urban Sindh. The typical Karachi voter is aware of the unfair distribution of resources, unfair job quotas and failed governance hence it is next to impossible that it will vote for the party in the coming polls,” he says.

He acknowledges that the split in Muhajir voters between the MQM and the PSP has adversely affected but their standing but says no re-unification between the parties is on the cards.

In the meantime, the PPP claims to maintain contacts with the second-tier leadership of the mainstream parties to strengthen its cadre in the areas where it traditionally lacks support.

“We are in contact with the young people of the area, we are building a connection with them. They are frustrated with the abysmal state of civic affairs in their areas and we want to channelise their energy. The local representatives of the area will eventually have no option than to join a national party that allows service delivery according to the expectations of the constituents. When it comes to Karachi, the PPP is turning out to be the only option for them,” says Syed.

Mazhar Abbas, a senior journalist, discloses that in a recent high-level meeting supervised by former president Asif Ali Zardari, the party supremo directed its Karachi chapter to re-organise the party structure.

“As the PPP continues to fail in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa, it has become imperative for them to gain seats in urban Sindh. They aspire to win at least six or seven National Assembly seats from Karachi in the next elections,” he says

“In the coming days we will be witnessing the PPP becoming more active in what used to be the MQM strongholds. But, only if they make their politics Karachi-oriented, there remains a chance of them succeeding in Muhajir dominated constituencies.”

The writer is a human rights reporter based in Karachi. He covers   conflict, environment and culture  

It isn’t over, yet