KARACHI: As the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the Jamaat-i-Islami take on the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) separately in its stronghold after failing to forge an alliance against their common arch-rival in the NA-246 by-election, political analysts aware of the city’s political history believe the anti-MQM vote is likely to be divided and the three warring parties will become aware of their exact popularity by Thursday evening.
The JI and PTI pin their hopes on their vote bank to emerge victorious from Azizabad, the densely-populated area of Karachi central district known to many primarily for housing the MQM headquarters Nine Zero and residence of its founding chief Altaf Hussain.
Those who want to see the MQM defeated in its heartland must have been disappointed when a flurry of meetings between JI and PTI delegations failed to bring about thaw in their relations over the NA-246 by-election, but political pundits acquainted with Karachi politics welcome the development, saying that it would help the three parties determine their electoral policy in the future.
“The MQM is a favourite [in NA-246] in the light of its electoral history,” says journalist Idrees Bakhtiar. “But it would be difficult to say who is next when it comes to competition. The PTI no doubt bagged the second highest votes from the constituency in 2013, but that momentum was part of the national wave of popularity across the country and a by-election can never generate that momentum,” he says.
It would have been advisable for the JI and the PTI to field a common candidate to double their strength, he believes, yet he calls their policy “good” in that it will reveal the actual strength of each party as the by-election is expected to be fair this time amid strict security measures and a close watch by the Election Commission of Pakistan.
“I don’t think the MQM is going to take the huge number of votes it used to obtain in the past. Neither will the PTI when it hardly has such workers who are required to be deputed as polling agents. I think the Jamaat [JI] has that potential and one should not underestimate them. But it’s good as the April 23 voting would make us aware of each party’s actual strength in Karachi to a large extent,” says Mr Bakhtiar.
Dr Jaffar Ahmad of the Pakistan Study Centre, Karachi University, says it is understandable why the JI insists that it should contest the NA-246 by-poll and turned down the PTI argument that the JI candidate be withdrawn. After all the PTI is contesting from the constituency only for a second time while the JI has had a decades-old electoral presence in the neighbourhood, he says.
“Although it’s only about a single constituency, the parties have focused their entire city force on NA-246. In such a situation, there would be a huge mobility of workers on the day of polling that can only be handled by the MQM and the JI. If PTI voters are harassed by such a huge mobility of workers, they would not come out in huge numbers to cast votes,” says Dr Ahmed.
The failure of the PTI and the JI, which are partners in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa coalition government, to reach an understanding on the NA-246 by-poll has also raised a question about their future relations.
But the Karachi JI spokesman says: “It doesn’t end our relations. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, we have a coalition that has emerged in the history of Pakistan as the best ruling partnership which is serving the people of that province. So NA-246 affairs are not going to challenge this relationship.”
For Karachi PTI president Ali Zaidi, the two parties are mature and both believe in positive politics. He rules out the possibility of any negative impact on their ties due to the NA-246 experience.
“We will cross the bridge when we come to it,” he replies when asked about the JI-PTI alliance prospects in the upcoming local bodies elections in Karachi after the two parties failed to develop a consensus on a single constituency.
Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2015