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Who did Pakhtuns vote for in Karachi?

KARACHI, May 15: The Awami National Party, which emerged as a political counterweight to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement over the past five years in Karachi, got a drubbing in the May 11 vote but it remains unexplained who Pakhtun voters largely cast their ballots for in a city battered by ethnic violence and militancy.

The ANP managed to clinch two provincial assembly seats in the 2008 elections: PS-93 (Banaras/ Mominabad) and PS-128 (Quaidabad). In 2013, on the identical seats not only has it performed below par but one of its main candidates, secretary general of the ANP’s provincial chapter Bashir Jan, has obtained 41 votes, according to the website of the Election Commission of Pakistan.

The ANP had initially announced that it was putting up 34 candidates on Karachi’s national and provincial assembly seats but later withdrew many of its candidates in favour of their coalition partner in the centre, the Pakistan Peoples Party.

Hence their final tally of contesting candidates was on eight National Assembly seats whose collective polled vote comes to a mere 17,677 and the total polled votes on 14 provincial assembly seats is just about 19,000 votes.

Mr Jan gives several reasons for the ANP’s poor electoral performance. “In one of the constituencies, results came late into the night and that too after two days of polling day. This happened in PS-93. But the result was incomplete since we did not receive the results of 22 polling stations. Part of the reason was that the police and Rangers took away the ballot boxes from 10 polling stations in Frontier Colony when a scuffle broke out and later firing occurred in the area. When the final count took place in front of the district returning officer our polling agent was not present. Also on election day a bomb blast took place in PS-128 in Quaidabad killing 12 of our workers. It was aimed at our candidate Amanullah Khan Masood. Luckily, he escaped.”.

He also cites withdrawing from quite a few seats in favour of the PPP, “because we knew that we were not in a winning position in these constituencies and wanted our vote bank of 2,000 to 4,000 to go to the PPP”. However, he adds that in PS-91 their candidate in Baldia Mohammad Razzaq obtained 4,658 votes. “Additionally, we were not able to campaign due to the threats that we constantly received. After meeting my workers in their homes, a couple of hours later they would receive threatening letters. Even then we refused to boycott the elections because we believe in the democratic process,” says Mr Jan.

Responding to the question if the incumbency factor that went against the ANP in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa could be cited as a reason for its ignominious defeat in Karachi, journalist and talk-show host Saleem Safi says: “In the last elections, the ANP won only two seats [PS-93 Amir Nawab acquired 36,473 votes and PS-128 Amanullah Khan Masood polled 29,433 votes] and that didn’t change the political dynamics of Karachi. And one of the reasons why the ANP even won there was because both the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf boycotted the elections. Moreover, the Pakhtuns who voted for the ANP in the 2008 elections did not necessarily share their ideological belief but did so because the ANP was the only one that was willing to challenge the Muttahida Qaumi Movement on home turf. One must understand that Pakhtuns in Karachi have either voted for the JI, the PML-N or the PPP.”

He adds that this time round the PTI has emerged as an adversary to the MQM — both politically and electorally. However, he says, in terms of violent retribution the outlawed Peoples Amn Committee and the ANP are the ones that can tackle the largest political party in Karachi.

According to Mr Jan, PTI candidate Syed Hafeezuddin, the winning candidate in PS-93, former ANP stronghold, had never even visited the constituency. So, how did he win this seat? Mr Jan’s answer is most telling: “It is pointless to even ask such a question. When you have a candidate who can gain 199,500 votes [in Karachi] anything can happen here. Jo woh chahtay thay woh huwa.”

However, Arsalan Ghumman, the PTI candidate from PS-118, has a facile explanation for the shifting pattern of Pakhtun vote in Karachi. “People in Karachi are tired of all old parties. The PTI got votes from voters of all the parties. It received Pakhtun votes as well.”