“Political parties in power have failed to own Karachi, and see the city as a cash-cow. Infrastructure and institutions have been ruined. I will contest the 2018 general election from Karachi and the city for the first time will have the best chance to change.” These were the words of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan on March 4 while on a recent organisational visit to Karachi.
With general elections approaching, PTI has again focused on Karachi. This time they are planning to capitalise on the inner turmoil of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and woo its Mohajir voters. Party leaders say that Imran Khan’s recent visits to Karachi and announcement to contest in general polls from the metropolis are part of the party’s electoral strategy for the city.
In his recent tour to Karachi on March 4 and 5, Khan visited Liaquatabad, PIB Colony, Burns Road and Gulistan-e-Johar, the Mohajir-populated areas that are considered heartlands of Mohajir politics. Firdous Shamim Naqvi, PTI’s Karachi president, says the party chief’s visit to the city would have positive impact on the party’s performance in the upcoming polls. “Karachi will elect Imran Khan from Karachi and make him prime minister,” he confidently says.
PTI candidates gave a tough time to their opponents in the last general elections 2013, especially MQM, in majority of national and provincial assembly constituencies in Karachi. They secured votes in every pocket across the ethnic composition and nieghbourhoods of all classes, and the party emerged as the second largest in the city. However, analysts believe Imran Khan had completely ignored the city and its problems and party’s organisational structure after the general polls and stayed focused on claims of rigging in some constituencies of Lahore, demanding re-elections there, the sit-ins and then protesting against Panama Leaks.
As a result, the party not only performed very poorly in Karachi the 2015 local government polls even after forging alliance with the Jamaat-e-Islami, it also suffered its worst defeat in the much-hyped by-polls in the PS-114 and the NA-246.
But now PTI is working hard to retrieve the sterling voter response it had received in Karachi in 2013. Although it is hard for the party to regain it, analysts and party leaders believe the continuous split among the ranks of MQM will benefit PTI in the upcoming polls from the city.
Senior analyst Tausif Ahmed Khan thinks that cricketer-turned politician’s announcement to contest general polls from Karachi will boost party’s electoral campaign in the metropolis. “It is an important decision and after recent delimitations, there are few safe constituencies in the city from where Imran can win easily.”
In the 1997 general polls, a few months after his party’s formation, Imran Khan had contested from the then NA-184 (comprising areas of Keamari and Baldia) but lost to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s Mian Ejaz Shafi. Following that, Imran Khan has been contesting elections from Karachi, along with a few more constituencies in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Interviews with the PTI leaders suggest the party’s Karachi chapter has been consulting to finalise a suitable constituency for the party chief after the recent delimitations. “The party has assessed the National Assembly constituencies, comprising posh localities of DHA and Clifton (former NA-250) and mixed-populated nieghbourhoods of Keamari and Baldia (former NA-239) and SITE and Orangi (former NA-241), that are safe for the party chief to win easily,” says a PTI leader.
But, according to him, a section of party leadership in the city has been insisting to field the party chief from a National Assembly seat from District Central, MQM’s support base, to boost the party’s candidates from these constituencies. Also, party sources say, along with Imran Khan, PTI has been preparing strong candidates, such as Arif Alvi, Imran Ismail, Ali Zaidi, Faisal Vawda and Firdous Shamim Naqvi from the city’s various constituencies.
MQM, a powerful political force, has been reeling under this ongoing operation in city and suffering a split into various factions, including the Pak Sarzameen Party and recent PIB Colony and Bahadurabad factions of the MQM-Pakistan. After the dismal performance of MQM’s splinter groups in the Senate elections, Mohajir electorate has also been expressing their frustration.
“On one side, the Mohajir community has been disturbed with MQM’s inner crisis and, on the other hand, the Pakistan People’s Party’s bad governance and its continuous acts to weaken the local government system in the metropolis has caused a sense of deprivation among the community and political vacuum,” says Amjad Chishti, a college professor in Nazimabad neighbourhood. He says the PTI “as an urban party can again exploit this vacuum because the Mohajir community is not going to vote for the rural PPP at any cost”.
PTI leaders have also realised this and Imran Khan in his recent speeches has emphasised on empowering the local government system in the city. “The PTI will bring a ‘directly elected mayor’ with administrative powers and financial resources who would resolve the city’s civic issues with a team of experts,” he said while addressing public rallies.
However, a section of analysts believe things are not simple for PTI in the city. “The charismatic personality of Imran Khan can help him win his seat but as far as overall Mohajir-populated constituencies are concerned, it is very early to comment on it,” says Munir Ahmed Shah, a journalist who covers electoral politics in the city. Shah says that before the general polls, there could be pressure on Mohajir parties from the community to get united to save the vote bank and in such situation; it would be hard for PTI to win.
Commenting on PTI’s attempts for Karachi votes, MQM-P’s leader Faisal Sabzwari says that Imran Khan’s attention towards the city “is seasonal and the city’s residents would never go with a party pursuing seasonal politics”.
Encouraged after winning Karachi’s two provincial assembly seats — the PS-127 and the PS-114 — in recent by-polls and their recent success in Senate polls by managing to muster support of MQM’s provincial assembly members, PPP is looking on to benefit from MQM’s woes. It is also taking notice of Imran Khan’s announcement to contest from Karachi.
Terming Imran Khan another Altaf Hussain, the PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said: “I once again challenge Imran to contest election against me from any Karachi constituency. People of this city will give you an exemplary defeat.”