NA-250 – it’s become a battle ground between two contenders for a coveted National Assembly seat; the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).
Much drama has played out over this constituency during the last week, particularly in its home city, Karachi, which resulted first in an announcement by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that re-polling will take place, followed by a postponement of re-polling for ‘security reasons’.
But an analysis of polling stations in the constituency reveals that the competition is going to be much tougher than that which was anticipated by PTI or acknowledged by MQM.
Discussions on NA-250 have taken the form of wealthy vs. poor, whether it’s NA-250 versus the other constituencies in Karachi, or Defence and Clifton vs. the rest of the areas in NA-250. Comments by the media and political leaders referring to this division have further drawn attention to this distinction and its role in determining vote preferences. With emotions about NA-250 still running high, it would be useful to look at some of the myths regarding this controversial constituency:
Myth 1: Voters in ‘posh’ areas of Clifton and Defence are a small and insignificant part of this constituency
While it is true that NA-250 stretches beyond areas in Clifton and Defence that are being colloquially referred to as ‘posh’, the voters in these areas are not insignificant in number. Defence and Clifton make up the South and Central areas of this constituency, Qayyumabad (Korangi) lies to the East, parts of Shireen Jinnah Colony, Bath Island and Hijrat Colony to the West and areas of Saddar Town up to Aram Bagh and Burnes Road in the North.
The total number of registered voters in the constituency is 365, 531 and out of these, one-third are registered in polling stations that are located in the ‘posh’ areas of Clifton and Defence (a substantial number of people). Polling stations in areas such as Delhi Colony and Shah Rasool Colony that do not fall under this label of ‘posh’ have not been included in this figure. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence suggests that voters in these ‘posh’ areas may form the most consolidated geographical vote bank in the constituency in favor of PTI.
Myth 2: As a Karachi constituency, NA-250 is a fortified MQM stronghold.
Unlike some of the other constituencies in Karachi, the MQM does not have an absolute vote bank in NA-250. In 2008, there was tough competition (a winning margin of 10% or less) in at least 17% of the polling stations in this constituency. MQM won in 43 % of the stations with a significant margin but PPP followed close behind, winning in 40 % of stations with a significant margin. Large portions of NA-250 voted for PPP such as the ‘non posh’ low income settlements of Shah Rasool Colony, Hijrat Colony, Hazara Colony and parts of Kehkashan and Railway Colony.
Areas of NA-250 with a significant vote bank of the MQM in 2008 were in Saddar Town (except some polling stations near Railway Colony), Delhi Colony, P & T Colony and Bizerta lines. The overall margin for victory for MQM in NA-250 in the last elections was only 7%, which was the second lowest for any constituency won by MQM in 2008. MQM was also unable to mobilise its voters then, as the lowest turnout in any constituency won by MQM happened to be in NA 250 at 30%.
Myth 3: The anti-MQM and MQM vote is divided along the lines of Clifton/Defence Vs. Rest of NA-250
Interestingly, areas that are now being pitched against the MQM voted by and large for the MQM in the 2008 elections. Voter turnout was low in these ‘posh’ areas of Defence/Clifton and a large number of polling stations were highly competitive (the margin of victory was low) but the winning party in the majority of cases was still the MQM. In addition, there are significant ‘non-posh’ pockets of Clifton and Defence that voted for the MQM in 2008.
At the same time there were areas in Clifton/Defence as well as the rest of NA 250 that voted for PPP. Some of the vote bank that went to PPP was an anti-MQM vote and it is clear that it was not restricted purely to Clifton/Defence. While the trend in these elections seems to be an increase in the popularity of PTI in Clifton/Defence, results from other constituencies also reveal that there has been an increase in the popularity of PTI in other non-posh areas of Karachi as well. Using these constituencies as an example and noting the PPP vote in non-posh areas, it would be fair to assume that an anti-MQM vote may be seen in other ‘non-posh’ areas of NA 250.
Thus, voting preferences in NA 250 will be more complex than this binary of elite and middle/working class.
Myth 4: If given a ‘fair’ chance, PTI will easily win NA 250
It’s already been established that Clifton and Defence do not make up the majority of NA 250 and even if an overwhelming number of voters are voting PTI from these areas, it does not necessarily translate into certain victory. Anti-MQM sentiments may be raging high in certain parts of NA-250 but it is important to remember that in 2008, the majority of the anti-MQM vote went to PPPP.
In 2013, if voting had taken place, it would have been split between PPP, PTI and JI (if they had contested elections). With such a three-way split, PTI supporters would have had to dramatically adjust their expectations. With JI out of the race (assuming they do not rejoin the race in the re-polling) it still remains to be seen if a significant anti-MQM vote and PPP vote will be transferred to the PTI and whether such a transfer would be enough to trump the consolidated, if not absolute vote bank of MQM in areas of NA-250. A rough comparison between the polling stations in 2008 and 2013 reveals that around 40 % of the registered voters in 2013 will cast their votes in areas that had a winning MQM presence in 2008.
What is certain is that turnout did increase in all polling stations of NA-250. In 2008, turnout in the high-income areas of Defence/Clifton was below average (25%). The rest of the areas in NA -250 saw a slightly higher than average turnout in 2008. Thus, it is likely that the rate of increase in the turnout in these ‘posh’ areas will be higher than the rate of increase in the rest of NA-250. However, at the same time the vote bank of MQM will also increase because of higher turnouts and because of the inclusion of areas such as Qayyumabad (in Karachi’s Korangi area). Some low-income areas like Qayyumabad, which has 24, 110 registered voters, were not part of NA-250 in 2008.
What’s clear, then, is that the numbers show both the PTI and the MQM have reasons to be worried – if and when re-polling takes place.
Sidra Kamran is a Research Assistant at the Collective for Social Science Research.