As expected, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has secured a thumping majority in local government polls held on October 31 in eight districts of Northern Sindh and remained almost unchallenged.
The first phase of elections was organised in eight out of 27 districts of Sindh province and in 2,333 constituencies. The districts were in the northern parts of Sindh, including Khairpur, Sukkur, Ghotki, Larkana, Shikarpur, Qambar Shahdadkot, Jacobabad and Kashmore.
Despite forging alliances on district level against the PPP, rival political parties were not able to harm the PPP in the local government polls. According to unofficial results of the ECP, the PPP has won more than 2,000 seats, all 8 district councils, most of municipal and town committees and both the municipal corporations in Sukkur and Larkana cities. The Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) and the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) emerged as the second and third largest political parties by securing over 280 and 150 seats respectively.
Over 900 independent candidates have also won in the polls and half of them are from the PPP’s different groups led by their leaders, who could potentially increase the number of the PPP’s seats to 2500 if they joined the party. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which is the second largest political party in Sindh Assembly, won only 26 seats from Sukkur while the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was able to win only six seats.
Terming the results as a candid manifestation of the people’s trust in the party leadership, PPP leaders — especially Chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Co-chairman, Asif Ali Zardari, say that the victory exposed all those that never let go of any opportunity to malign the party. “Conglomerate of the rejected politicians did all they could to deceive the masses but the people of Sindh stood united and gave them a shut-up call. Their trust in PPP has also established that the people of Sindh are highly mature politically and always stand beside the democratic forces such as the PPP,” says Waqar Mehdi, the PPP Sindh’s Deputy Secretary, Information.
However, almost all rival political parties, such as the PML-F and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), have alleged that the PPP-led Sindh government has manipulated the first phase of the election process. Also, violent clashes between the rival parties have been reported. In one incident in Khairpur district, 11 people belonging to the PML-F were killed and others injured. Muhammad Ismail Rahoo, the PML-N Sindh President, says that the elections were fully rigged. “State machinery was used to win the polls and returning officers were changed during the night of the polls,” Rahoo tells TNS.
He says his party has already demanded the deployment of Rangers at the polling stations but government did not fulfill the demand.
Independent watchdog bodies, which monitored the polls in Northern Sindh, also expressed its concerns on violence and irregularities. “Although relatively better organised, the local government elections were not free from procedural irregularities and, tainted by the afternoon clash in Khairpur district, that led to the killing of as many as 11 political workers,” commented the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) — an independent election monitoring body, in its preliminary election report on Sindh. The incidents of restrictions on FAFEN observers for the observation of the voting process as well as the counting of votes raised questions about the transparency of the process, the report maintains.
Despite the pathetic performance amidst unlimited allegations of corruption, the PPP has won the first round of local government elections in Sindh. Asghar Soomro, a political analyst, says that it (results of local government’s first phase) should not mean that all criticism on the PPP was baseless but reveals that government power and money are still major factors in determining election outcomes. “If performance of other political parties, such as the PML-N and the PML-F, has been relatively good only then we should have expected voters to elect leaders on the basis of their performance”, says Soomro. “With no better choice, voters either remained indifferent or chose lesser evil. Election turnout and results are before us.”
After polls at union committee level, now infighting has started among the PPP’s leaders, most of them are powerful tribal chieftains, in every district to grab the positions of mayor in district and towns for their children and relatives. In Sukkur district, the PPP’s four key leaders, including Syed Khurshid Shah, Senator Islamuddin Shaikh, provincial local government minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah and ex-MPA Anwar Khan Mehar are eying these positions. Provincial Information Minister, Nisar Khuhro is struggling to grab the position of Larkana mayor-ship for his daughter Nida Khuhro, who has already been elected unopposed; while MNA Faryal Talpur’s favourite candidate for this position is the brother of Provincial Home Minister, Sohail Anwar Siyal. In Khairpur, the fight is between families of Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah and Manzoor Wasan.
However, political analysts believe that the PPP could face a tough fight in the second and third phases of the local government polls, which will be held in Southern Sindh on November 19 and Karachi on December 5 respectively, where, they believe, political dynamics are very different from those in Northern Sindh. In second phase, the MQM will be the main challenger to the PPP in Hyderabad and Mirpurkhas districts, while the PML-F has strong influence in Sanghar district.
In Badin, PPP’s disgruntled leader, Dr Zulfiqar Mirza, with the help of Arbab Ghulam Rahim’s group, the PML-N and other parties, has been forging a greater anti-PPP alliance and Tharparkar, Mithi and Badin districts.