There was no upset in NA-246: Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) Kunwar Naveed won, which means Muttahida will bag a National Assembly seat from the constituency for a record seventh time.
But most observers noticed there was something different about this election.
A constituency that is home to the MQM – the very place Altaf Hussain began his political journey from – housing Nine Zero, Khurshid Begum Hall in Azizabad, Jinnah Ground and comprising an overriding majority of Urdu-speaking people was suddenly up for grabs.
With everything favouring the historic heavyweights, why was there so much buzz around the by-election, especially in the MQM camp?
Perhaps what put the MQM under the microscope more than any political contender was the widely-televised Rangers raid on the party’s headquarters (Nine Zero) last month, followed by the sensational Saulat Mirza video, released hours before the death-row inmate was scheduled to be executed.
The content of Mirza’s footage, which was also “widely televised,” appeared to implicate MQM and some of its top leaders.
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It was this context that put MQM under immense pressure in the run-up to the by-poll in an area considered its bastion, despite the constituency’s ethnic demographic and voting history.
For the first time in over two decades, the MQM felt the heat on its own turf — there were unanswered questions in everyone’s minds, perhaps also in the leadership’s minds.
With indicted criminals arrested from and around Nine Zero, supremo Altaf Hussain under investigation by London police in a money laundering case, a key suspect with alleged links to the MQM arrested in Imran Farooq’s murder case, and Altaf expressing public resentment with the Rabita Committee on multiple occasions, the questions and doubts were merited.
Would the MQM be able to prove that all of this “negative propaganda” had not hurt its popularity?
Would its traditional voter question its representatives over some of the recent developments?
Most importantly, would there be a visible change in the voting pattern this time?
This uncertainty and these unanswered questions were the “something different” in this election.
This time round, it was not just MQM’s rival trying to muster support in unfamiliar territory. There was a clear effort by MQM to preserve what was its own.
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The mobilisation of MQM officials, volunteers, local and central leaders, the noticeable increase in the frequency of Altaf Hussain’s telephonic addresses was unprecedented, not just because all this was just for a single National Assembly seat, but also because it was the “Azizabad” seat in a context that questioned the party's power itself.
Imagine the humiliation for the party had it not been able to win the seat. Such a result would have been analogous to the PML-N losing in Raiwind, or the Pakistan Peoples Party losing in Garhi Khuda Baksh.
This fear, more than anything else, was what pushed MQM to plan and conduct a thorough election campaign, which was not just limited to the constituency in question, but also spanned the Internet. And trust me, as a staffer on the online news desk, I know the MQM is watching every news report, and vigorously defending all allegations in a clear attempt to safeguard its image.
Rivals, especially the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, capitalised on this fully, sensing that there was ground that could be captured.
In such an environment, we saw that advances by the PTI were deemed threatening.
Imran Ismail’s visits to Javed Nihari in Federal B Area, his visit to the Jinnah Ground, the PTI’s intent to hold an election jalsa there and Imran Khan’s visit to Azizabad along with his wife aroused insecurity in MQM’s rank and file, a feeling unknown to the party in NA-246.
Eventually, perhaps inadvertently, the democratic process was the ultimate winner.
With all major political forces, including the MQM, taking active part in the campaign process in the area to lure voters, democracy won.
It is true that the presence of a paramilitary force did not make for an ideal polling environment, but a lack of such measures would have also given wind to claims of rigging and use of unfair influence, as always.
After polling closed today, the impossible happened. Haider Abbas Rizvi and Imran Ismail were seen having a cup of tea together, with both appearing to be in a jovial mood as they spoke to media personnel.
|A cup of tea|
After days of vociferous verbal attacks, some ethical others not so much, fierce rivals sharing a cup of tea was a positive sign. But, why was this not possible before the election?
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The PTI may not have won the by-poll, and from the looks of one of its election camps earlier in the day, it wasn’t expecting such a feat either. But one should certainly accept that the PTI and all the MQM has suffered through in the last few weeks gave us a real election.
That, I believe, is ‘tabdeeli’.