KARACHI: Karachi’s shifting political landscape has a new big fish: Saeed Ghani.
A lifelong jiala, Ghani is the son of labour leader Usman Ghani who was gunned down on Sept 17, 1995 along with a bodyguard. Usman Ghani was secretary general of the Muslim Commercial Bank (MCB) Staff Union at the time. Saeed succeeded him, both in the MCB Staff Union and in the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — Saeed was elected as the new secretary general of the union as well as the secretary general of PPP’s PS-114 ward, which was incidentally also where his family home is situated. Two years later, Saeed became the president of the PS-114 ward.
Saeed Ghani steadily rose through the ranks becoming one of Benazir Bhutto’s trusted workers when it came to affairs concerning Karachi. His experience in local government — he was first elected nazim of union council (UC)-4 back in 2001 — meant that soon, he’d gain a reputation of being the PPP’s chief Karachi strategist. Perhaps it is the sign of the times and the political vacuum that exists that Ghani was recalled from his Senate post for the purpose of contesting a provincial assembly by-poll.
In 2005, Ghani was elected a representative of the City Council, the legislative arm of the Karachi local government. At the time, the Mustafa Kamal-run City District Government Karachi (CDGK) came under fire from various quarters over attempts to allegedly manipulate the boundaries of various constituencies. One of the constituencies greatly affected happened to be Mehmoodabad, the site of the battle for PS-114.
While Kamal left the MQM and went on to form his Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP), his tenure was marked with such allegations of gerrymandering. Kamal argued at the time that development work being carried out meant that people had to be evicted from one place and resettled in another. In practice, this meant that Urdu-speaking as well as other voters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) were resettled in territories where the MQM did not enjoy as much support or were in a minority.
In Mehmoodabad, Kamal sought to resettle hundreds of these families. A colony by the name of Water Board Colony was established for the purpose — this was to add about 3,600 votes to the MQM vote bank in the area, deemed almost enough to tip the (electoral) scales towards Muttahida. Kamal could do so at the time because the city nazim was also the chief of the water board.
But on Sunday, as PS-114 went to the polls once again, the ghosts of gerrymandering came alive once again: about 844 votes were polled in MQM-P’s favour from Water Board Colony (about one-fourth of registered voters). Total votes cast were 921.
Another benefit that the MQM-P enjoyed was the shifting of Irfanullah Marwat’s votes from the PTI to them. Marwat had pledged his backing to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Najeeb Haroon but a few days before polling was scheduled, he apparently struck a deal with the MQM-P to swell their votes. Indeed, both the PTI and the Jamaat-i-Islami remained unable to pose any threat to their competitors.
And yet, in the surrounding polling stations of Chanesar Goth, the PPP swept nearly all votes that were cast. Sources explain that the number of polling stations in other areas was reduced in favour of increasing them in Chanesar Goth, which is a largely PPP-dominated area. And the gap between the winning candidate and the runner-up reflects that: in two polling stations of Chanesar Goth, the PPP bagged over 1,000 votes (1,204 at one and 1,004 at another). The corresponding number of votes bagged by the MQM-P at the same polling stations were 39 and 34.
Similarly, the PPP swept through Akhtar Colony and Azam Basti (largely Punjabi and Christian localities). It lost out, however, in the adjoining Manzoor Colony as well as in large parts of Mehmoodabad where the MQM-P managed to dominate.
The MQM-P faced losses, however, from Defence View which was recognised earlier as an MQM stronghold. Votes polled for the PPP were 574 while MQM-P bagged 418. The damage therefore was cumulative since the margins at a few polling stations were very narrow.
But at the more privileged, upper middle-class locality of the Karachi Administration Employees Housing Society, the MQM-P suffered majorly despite it being a largely Urdu-speaking area. The society has recently been beset by the mixing of water supply lines with sewage; despite repeated attempts by the mayor, the issue has largely remained on the back burner in KWSB affairs.
Since the KWSB is no longer run by the mayor (his powers to do so were clipped by the PPP-dominated Sindh Assembly), the mayor is powerless to redress their grievances. In one trip, for example, where the mayor went to inaugurate road carpeting works in the colony, residents thronged him with complaints of water mixing with sewage. Although the mayor provided some relief by sending water tankers for a specific period of time, there was no permanent redress. In effect, not only does the mayor not have the power to do much, he and his party also are both victims of the perception that they can do something but are not willing to do so.
This meant more lost votes. As per initial estimates, the PPP bagged 935 votes as opposed to the MQM-P’s 470.
Ultimately, the by-election was built on little margins having a collective effect on overall results. Saeed Ghani’s return to politics in the province and particularly in the city is meant to ensure that the PPP recalibrates its strategy in the city. In unleashing their chief strategist on the local scene, the PPP has ensured that local alliances begin swinging towards them rather than the MQM-P. But as the electoral numbers show, politics is a game of opportunity.
Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2017