With only 96 hours left to one of the biggest and most anticipated showdowns in Pakistan’s electoral history, political battle lines have been drawn clearly. The stage is all set. This ferocious political war will continue on the field for nine hours on April 23, 2015 but the warring parties will remain on their toes until the results are announced late that evening.
In the last general elections held in 2013, Nabeel Ahmed Gabol of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) was elected from this constituency. The area is considered the heartland and bastion of MQM; the headquarters of the party is also located in the same neighbourhood. A total of 15 candidates will be contesting the by-election but political pundits are of the view that the real battle is among the MQM, the PTI and the JI.
The MQM has nominated Kunwar Naveed Jameel, former nazim (mayor) of Hyderabad city while Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Jamaat-e-Islami have given tickets to Imran Ismael and Rashid Nasim respectively. The total number of registered voters is 357,781 from this constituency — 196,187 male and 161,594 female voters. There will be 769 polling booths; 397 for male and 372 for female. The areas which fall under this constituency are:
FB Area Blocks 1, 2, 3,4,7,8,9,11,12,14,15; Azizabad, Gulshan-e-Shamim, Nasirabad, Karimabad, Liaquatabad No. 10,9,4; FC Area, Al-Azam Square, Moosa Colony and Ghareebabad.
Federal B-Area and adjoining areas were once considered middle class neighbourhoods. Many writers, teachers and professors used to reside in the vicinity but the deteriorating law and order situation forced them to flee the area and settle in more posh and secure parts of the city.
A ride through the constituency on motorbike at night shows that the long Shahrah-e-Pakistan, the main artery of the constituency, was not embellished enough with political posters or slogans. There are MQM flags on the bridges of Aisha Manzil and Water Pump along with some portraits of Altaf Hussain installed alongside the main road. Some PTI banners and billboards are mounted on the poles of streetlights on Shahrah-e-Pakistan. Two camps of PTI and JI are installed in between Aisha Manzil and Water Pump. The PTI has established its main election camp at Karimabad.
To cover any untoward incident, the Digital Satellite News Gathering (DSNG) vans of various television channels are stationed at Karimabad near the PTI’smain election camp.
Jamaat-e-Islami nominee Rashid Nasim believes that this time the election will be fair and peaceful and the turnout will be high as the entire country is focusing on this particular contest.
This has truly turned into a national constituency. The head of PTI Imran Khan has already visited the area while the JI Ameer Sirajul Haq has also organised a big rally in the area. Though the PTI and the JI are coalition partners in the KPK government, both of them are not willing to emulate this in Sindh and especially in Karachi. Both have urged each other to withdraw their respective candidates but nobody is willing to do so.
Political commentators believe that the 2002 elections is the benchmark to analyse the recent political temperature of the constituency.
In the general elections of 2002, MQM won 12 seats and lost three constituencies in their strongholds of NA-252, NA-253 and NA-255. In an interesting development at NA-255, Mehmood Ahmed Qureshi of MQM won the seat while the remaining two were taken away by Mutthadia Majlis-e-Amal. Thirteen years back, in the same constituency of NA-246, MMA’s Rashid Naseem got 32,879 votes while Azizullah of MQM bagged 53,134 votes and was notified as the winner.
A few weeks back, during an interview given to Geo’s Shahzeb Khanzada, former MNA of MQM from NA-246, Nabeel Gabol disclosed: “I did not carry out any election campaign in the 2013 general elections. During a visit of the constituency on the election day, I witnessed stamping [stuffing of ballot boxes] at one polling station in my favour.”
Back in the constituency, there are some people gathered in the PTI camp at Karimabad. It is the same camp where the initial clash took place between the PTI and the MQM supporters. Inside the camp, its candidate and longtime PTI stalwart Imran Ismael sits wearing a bullet-proof-vest. He says, “I am under threat and the police has provided me this jacket. If not MQM, a third party can manipulate the situation”.
“There is a strong sense of fear among the residents of my constituency. When I visit the areas, people support me and come forward to have a photograph but when the news channel cameras start operating all of them disperse,” says Ismael. He claims that 22 MPAs of MQM are canvassing door-to-door for Kunwar Naveed Jameel.
Nabeel Gabol asks, “I didn’t run my campaign in the last election and if this is their [MQM] stronghold, why are these MPAs going to the voters’ doorsteps?”
Replying to the question of Imran Ismaeel, Kunwar Naveed Jameel says, “When there was no campaign, as the PTI believes, they (PTI) had their reservations. Now we are approaching our voters, they still have problem.”
Senior journalist Mohammed Hanif says this election will be a test case for MQM as there are those political pundits who believe the MQM decline has started; it has lost popularity and they claim that people are distancing themselves from it because of its militant activity. “It’s a great opportunity for the PTI which claims that urban population is joining its ranks and this by-election provides them an opportunity to carve a place for themselves in Karachi’s politics.”
In the early days when the campaign began, some untoward incidents were reported about the highly charged supporters but the local police handled the situation well. That raises questions about security on the election day.
In a meeting held in Central Police Office on April 14, DIG West Zone, Feroz Shah briefed that more than 5500 police personnel including 5 SSPs, 9 DSPs and 18 SHOs/Inspectors would be deployed. 55 buildings have been identified for roof top deployment. APCs/bullet proof vehicles would be placed at all identified flash points. Anti-riot platoons equipped with anti-riot kits would remain on standby at the convenient nearest places.
SSP Central Noman Siddiqui told TNS that a central control room will be established in DIG West Zone office where Police, Rangers and other administrative body representative will be present to monitor and assist the field staff. “We have close coordination with all the political parties and candidates. Besides, we have developed a comprehensive security mechanism with the help of Sindh Rangers. A high level security official will be visiting each polling station after brief intervals,” says Siddiqui.
The news channel reporters, covering the election campaign of NA-246 24/7, predict that the turnout will be lower than in 2013 general elections. The trend shows that turnout usually dips in the by-elections. The PTI and the JI may acquire substantial votes but finally the seat will go to MQM, analysts say. They are of the view that MQM will get 50,000 to 80,000 votes. But then predicting an election result, even if it’s in a city like Karachi, is the most unpredictable exercise.