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KARACHI, May 14: The results declared by the Election Commission of Pakistan on its website show voters in most constituencies across Karachi have largely opted not to vote for sect-based parties such as the Majlis-i-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM) and the six-party alliance of the Muttahida Deeni Mahaz (MDM).

However, the participation of sect-based parties in the electoral process in Karachi appears to be a message to the mainstream political parties that the former need to be taken seriously.

Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, part of the MDM, put up candidates on three National Assembly and 20 provincial assembly seats from Karachi.

“Even though we knew that we wouldn’t obtain all of the seats from where our candidates stood, we do have a vote bank and we were particularly confident of winning PS-128, contested by Aurangzeb Farooqi as an ASWJ candidate. Unofficial results showed we were in the lead by 10,000 votes in PS-128,” claims Akbar Saeed Farooq, an ASWJ spokesman.

However, Mr Farooq adds that since everyone is aware of the vote rigging that took place in the city, their polling agents too were intimidated, particularly on PS-128 (Quaidabad).

Hence the ballot paper account does not have their polling agents’ signatures. “Moreover, we still have not been handed the result of PS-126 and NA-253 (Gulistan-i-Jauhar) where we have a considerable vote bank,” says Mr Farooq.

Allegations of rigging notwithstanding, according to the ECP’s website, Aurangzeb Farooqi of the MDM is the runner-up in PS-128, receiving 21,332 votes and finishing close to the winning candidate Waqar Hussain Shah of the Muttahida Quami Movement with a count of 23,496 votes, thus lending credence to Mr Farooq’s assertion.Muhammad Amir Rana, a political analyst based in Islamabad, explains the participation of the likes of the ASWJ in the electoral politics of Karachi.

“After Jhang, Karachi is the second largest base for the ASWJ. They have considerable influence in the city. In the absence of the Awami National Party, the ASWJ has exploited the vacuum to its full advantage. They also have pockets of support in the Pakhtun areas of Karachi. Hence, it is not surprising that their chances in these elections were favourable but only to the extent that they could have got one or two seats.”

When the ASWJ spokesman is asked for reasons of being a part of elections when they have considerable street power, he says: “Back in the 2008 elections, all mainstream parties — be it the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz or even the ANP — contacted us to seek our support. We responded by not only canvassing for them but insisted that our people vote for them. However, since then between 500 and 600 ASWJ workers have been killed in Karachi alone and these parties have done nothing for us. Instead they kept labelling us as proscribed organisations.

They cornered us and we decided to contest from Karachi to show them our electoral strength and that we have a vote bank and people do support us.”

Mr Rana who has written extensively on the sectarian conflict contextualises ASWJ electoral strategy and says: “Mainstream parties have always aimed for alliances with sectarian parties. This helps the sectarian parties to create further space for them. And by appearing in elections they are showing at one level that they are stakeholders in the city.”

Another sect-based party that took part in the elections, the MWM, albeit for the first time, put up candidates on five National Assembly and seven provincial assembly seats in Karachi. This party came into prominence for organising effective street protests against Shia killings, particularly of members of the Hazara community in Quetta that left 100 people dead in January and the bomb blast in Abbas Town in Karachi in March.

“Until now we did not have a political face and we thought we would be more effective if we became a part of the electoral practice. We also have considerable support from our community,” says Ali Ahmed, MWM information secretary for central Karachi.

When reminded of the abysmal number of votes — all under 4,000 — secured by the party on national and provincial assembly seats, the MWM claims that the elections in the city were marred by vote rigging and on top of that their candidate Asghar Abbas Zaidi for NA-253 was kidnapped on polling day. He was later found in the night in a school in Gulshan-i-Iqbal, tortured and beaten up. Nevertheless, no FIR about the kidnap incident was filed by the party, says Mr Ahmed.

“PS-117 (PIB Colony-Bahadurabad) and PS-127 (Malir) were our confirmed seats. But Muttahida Quami Movement workers came and took away the ballot boxes and at many polling stations there were incidents of firing, intimidating our polling agents,” he alleges.

According to Amir Rana, in the case of the MWM, “the voter trend indicates that the Shias have not voted for the MWM and instead opted for either the MQM or the PPP. They just wanted to show their strength and I don’t think that in the next elections, too, they will be successful.”