KARACHI: Despite ruling for five years at the Centre and in Sindh, the Pakistan Peoples Party had won only one National Assembly seat in Karachi in the 2013 general elections. The PPP even lost two NA seats in Malir and West districts and only managed to retain its traditional Lyari constituency after cutting a deal with outlawed Peoples Amn Committee chief Uzair Jan Baloch.

Five years later, the party — now headed by young Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari — is eyeing as many as 10 NA seats in Karachi in the July 25 elections, thanks to new delimitation of electoral constituencies, the absence of the Altaf Hussain-led Muttahida Qaumi Movement-London from the electoral arena and a tacit understanding reportedly reached between the powerful establishment and former president Asif Ali Zardari.

It’s not like that all of a sudden the PPP has started enjoying mass popularity in the country’s commercial capital that has traditionally been voting for Mr Hussain’s party for three decades.

The PPP knows it stands no chance on more than 50 per cent of seats for the national and provincial assemblies and all it plans is to use the new delimitation to its advantage as it still relies more on anti-MQM votes as well as the Sindhi, Pakhtun and Baloch communities living in the city’s rural fringes instead of the dominating Urdu-speaking community.

In 2013, Karachi had a total of 20 NA and 42 provincial assembly seats and the PPP got one NA and three PA seats — two in Lyari and one in Malir.

After the new delimitation, Karachi’s six districts — Malir, Korangi, East, South, West and Central — got 21 NA and 44 PA seats due to an increase in its population in the census. There are three NA seats in Malir district, as many in Korangi, four in East, two in South, five in West and four in Central district. Barring NA-252 — a constituency in West district — the PPP has fielded its candidates on 20 NA seats in Karachi. The party said it would soon announce its candidate for the NA-252 constituency too.

The party is quite sure of its success on four seats — two in Malir (NA-236 and NA-237) and one each in West (NA-248) and South (NA-246). The PPP gave tickets to Jam Abdul Karim Jokhio and Abdul Hakeem Baloch to contest the elections from NA-236 and NA-237 in Malir. PPP chairman Bhutto-Zardari himself will contest the election from NA-246 (Lyari) in South district. The party leader Abdul Qadir Patel will contest the election from NA-248 in West district.

Since the Altaf Hussain-led MQM has been facing an unannounced ban on political activities, the PPP believes it can win six more NA seats in the July 25 elections, in addition to 18 to 20 PA seats.

“We have candidates on all 21 NA seats in Karachi and we are quite confident that we will emerge as the single-largest party of the city by winning 10 NA and 18-20 PA seats,” senior PPP leader Waqar Mehdi claimed. According to him, the party is in a position to grab all three NA seats in Malir, all two NA seats in South district, three of the five NA seats in West district and two of the four NA seats in East district.

Even PPP’s rival parties, particularly the MQM-Pakistan, acknowledge that the party has a realistic chance of improving its electoral results. However, they say that any success the PPP may achieve will be because of “pre-poll rigging”, alluding to the fresh delimitation of constituencies.

Senior MQM-P leader Faisal Subzwari recently alleged at a press conference that the delimitation had been carried out in an extreme prejudiced way and “certain groups and people” were favoured in such a manner that was only aimed at defeating the MQM in the elections.

Waqar Mehdi said the PPP was hopeful of winning NA-236, NA-237 and NA-238 in Malir, NA-242 (Gadap, Scheme 33 and Gulzar-i-Hijri), NA-244 (parts of Gulshan, Mehmoodabad, Azam Basti), NA-246 (Lyari), NA-247 (Old City Area, Defence and Clifton), NA-248 (Manora, Sultanabad and Mauripur), NA-250 (Shershah, Valika and SITE) and NA-252 (Manghopir, Sultanabad and Surjani Town).

The PPP has fielded Agha Rafiullah from NA-238, Iqbal Sandh from NA-242, retired Col Asad Alam Niazi from NA-244, Abdul Aziz Memon from NA-247 and Ali Ahmed from NA-250.

Amid the election boycott announced by Altaf Hussain, the Urdu-speaking vote is expected to be divided between the MQM-P and the Pak Sarzameen Party and the situation can provide the PPP an opportunity to emerge as the single-largest party in Karachi. But it appears that the party is ignoring the constituencies that traditionally voted for the Altaf-led MQM in previous elections, despite the fact that these localities are enduring a political vacuum in the absence of a unified MQM and may opt for Mr Bhutto-Zardari.

“How can they expect to win in Urdu-speaking constituencies because they know well they deliberately ignored development in these areas during their 10-year rule,” remarked an MQM-P leader.

Even Waqar Mehdi mentioned NA-252 as the constituency from where the PPP is expecting “a large number of Urdu-speaking votes” because many workers and office-bearers of the MQM had quit their party and joined the PPP in Surjani Town.

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2018