Losing Sindh Assembly’s PS-114 constituency is not something new that should shock the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. In the past three general elections, the MQM only won the seat once from politician Irfanullah Marwat — in the 2008 general polls with a margin of a mere 600 votes.
This time, in the July 9 by-polls, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party emerged triumphant for the first time in this constituency — thanks to its decision of fielding a local and popular leader Senator Saeed Ghani from the constituency. Besides, it had the backing of several political and religious parties, labour rights bodies and, most importantly, had channelised the government resources in the by-polls.
Still overcoming the turmoil after splitting away from the party founder Altaf Hussain with some of MQM central leaders and lawmakers defecting to Pak Sarzameen Party, the renamed MQM-Pakistan was not able to win the by-polls. However, according to the MQM-P leaders and analysts, the 18,000 votes it did bag have helped the party escape from Altaf Hussain’s shadow and his influence on the votes of the Urdu-speaking community.
Although 27 candidates were in the run for PS-114, a mixed-ethnicity constituency, the main contest took place between PPP’s Ghani and the MQM-P’s Kamran Tessori. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s Ali Akbar Gujjar, the Paksitan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Engineer Najeeb Haroon and the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Zahoor Ahmad Jadoon were also in the race.
Marwat had won the constituency in the 2013 general elections on a PML-N ticket, but his victory was declared void by an election tribunal in July 2014. On May 11 this year, the Supreme Court ordered re-polling for PS-114, dismissing Marwat’s appeal challenging the tribunal’s decision. The seat fell vacant after the top court’s verdict unseated Marwat.
PPP’s Ghani won the seat by securing 23,797 votes against his closest rival Tessori of the MQM-P, who bagged 18,000 votes, according to unofficial results. PML-N’s Gujjar ranked third by securing 7,175 votes; followed by PTI’s Haroon (5,942 votes) and JI’s Jadoon who bagged 2,320 votes.
However, the MQM-P has challenged the results of by-polls, saying the polls were rigged by the ruling PPP. The ECP on July 19 halted the notification of Ghani after hearing the MQM petition.
The victory in the by-polls in PS-114 is special for the PPP, which has been making all-out effort to branch out the party from its traditional Baloch and Sindhi populated areas of Malir, Lyari and Keamari. Waqar Mehdi, PPP Sindh’s secretary general, says the success is a propitious outcome for the ruling party in the upcoming 2018 general elections. “The victory is a testament to the trust and confidence the people of Karachi have reposed in the PPP and shows the voters have rejected politics based on fear and harassment.”
Being a local resident of the constituency, Ghani appeared as the stronger candidate anyway. The party had channelised its provincial government’s resources and gathered the support of various political and religious parties, including The Awami National Party, Punjabi Pakhtun Ittehad, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan, the Pakistan Sunni Tehreek and the Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen.
For analysts, results of the PS-114 are not an indication of trend for the upcoming polls. Analyst Sartaj Khan says that ruling parties generally win by-polls. “But results of the by-polls has worried the PPP as the Mohajir votes in the constituency remained intact and were in favour of the MQM-P, despite its founder Altaf Hussain having appealed to the community to boycott the polls.”
Salahuddin Ali, a journalist who covers political parties, opines that after winning the PS-114, the PPP has proved that it could be an alternative for Karachi’s urban areas. “At the same time, the MQM has also proved it by bagging 18,000 votes that it is still a potent political force in the city and the London-based faction of the MQM has no space in the city’s politics,” Ali wrote in his analysis in Urdu daily Dunya.
Even the PPP leaders privately admit it. “Our party assessed that the MQM-P will not be able to get more than 5000 votes because of the split in the MQM ranks and Altaf Hussain’s appeal to boycott the polls but our evaluation was wrong,” says a Karachi-based PPP leader.
The result of the PS-114 by-polls has also led other parties representing the Mohajirs to start efforts to save the community’s votes from splitting. During the by-polls, the MQM-Haqiqi, arch-rival of the MQM, announced to support the MQM-P, while the PSP Chairman Mustafa Kamal also extended a hand of friendship towards the MQM-P chief Dr Farooq Sattar “in the larger interest of the people of Karachi”.
The PTI, even after mustering support of two local heavyweights — Marwat and former lawmaker Sardar Abdul Rahim — performed very badly and ranked fourth. Since late 2011, the PTI has enjoyed a wave of popularity and also succeeded in securing a significant number of votes from the MQM’s traditional constituencies, especially in District Central in the 2013 general polls. However, analysts believe the party has been losing ground in the city due to weak organisational set-up and ignorance of the city’s political dynamics.
“After the 2013 polls, Imran Khan did not concentrate on Karachi’s politics or the PTI’s organisational structure in the city, restricting the party’s focus on claims of rigging in some constituencies of Lahore and demanding re-elections, and then the Panama Leaks,” says a PTI leader.