For PSP, this is a do-or-die election

Published July 4, 2018
PAK Sarzameen Party leader Mustafa Kamal hugs Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan chief Dr Farooq Sattar during the joint news conference at the Karachi Press Club.—File
PAK Sarzameen Party leader Mustafa Kamal hugs Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan chief Dr Farooq Sattar during the joint news conference at the Karachi Press Club.—File

FOR Mustafa Kamal-led Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP), the July 25 election is a do-or-die opportunity. It would be a first litmus test of the anti-Altaf Hussain and anti-Muttahida Qaumi Movement stance he took over two years ago when he returned to the country after a gap of around three years and formed his own party. Luckily for him, the split and a power struggle within the MQM-P has given his party a chance to gain ground in Karachi’s Mohajir-dominated localities, but it remains to be seen how he will manage to translate it into an electoral victory.

The former mayor — whose work for the city’s development was said to have helped the unified MQM win 17 of the 20 National Assembly seats in Karachi in the 2008 general elections (the MQM had won only 11 seat in the 2002 general elections) and then retained the same number of seats in the 2013 polls — had left the country in August 2013 after developing differences with the London-based leadership of the party.

Mr Kamal returned to Karachi on March 3, 2016, along with senior leader Anis Kaimkhani only to allege that the MQM founder worked for the Indian intelligence agency, RAW, and announce he is parting ways with him and will form his own party.

However, his return to active politics was seen by his detractors as an establishment-sponsored move aimed at breaking the MQM and imposing the minus-Altaf Hussain formula. As senior party leaders and lawmakers announced quitting the party headed by the London-based leadership and joined Mr Kamal, who formally named his party as PSP on March 23, 2016, allegations were made that people switched loyalties due to the pressure of the establishment.

Later on Aug 22, 2016 Mr Hussain made an incendiary speech over the phone from London following which the establishment acted against his party with full force, sealing off its headquarters and other offices. To avoid the wrath of the establishment, the party had no option but to disown him as Mr Hussain himself implemented the minus-Altaf formula. The minus-Altaf MQM that calls itself MQM-Pakistan earned the blessing of the powers that be to the extent that Mr Kamal’s PSP started complaining. In November 2017, the establishment made an attempt to forge an alliance between the PSP and the MQM-P, but it could not last for even 24 hours. In that episode, the PSP appeared to be the loser as the MQM-P’s Dr Sattar successfully presented himself as the victim of state oppression who was forced to shake hands with Mr Kamal.

But differences within the MQM-P surfaced in February 2018 over distribution of Senate tickets proved to be a blessing in disguise for the PSP. The MQM-P was divided into Bahadurabad and PIB factions and its disgruntled lawmakers, office-bearers and workers preferred to join Mr Kamal without any external pressure.

16,000 polling agents is the number a party needs to man all polling stations in Karachi on July 25 — and the PSP claims it is the only party that has the required strength.

As the MQM-P seemed in complete disarray after being divided in Bahadurabad and PIB factions, the PSP managed to make inroads in almost every Karachi area as well as Hyderabad, Sukkur and Mirpurkhas, opened offices there and formed party set-up at union committee level.

The March 3 Senate elections also proved that neither Dr Farooq Sattar nor Amir Khan/Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui had a firm grip on the MQM-P, as their own MPAs refused to vote for the candidates nominated by them and the party lost three of its four Senate seats. In the same Senate election, Mr Kamal demonstrated his control over the elected representatives who joined his party as they all voted for Pakistan Muslim League-Functional candidate Muzaffar Hussain Shah on his call.

Not only that, Mr Kamal also successfully portrayed his infant party as a non-violent one — though an overwhelming majority of the PSP cadre formerly belonged to the MQM.

Even at the PSP headquarters, not a single worker is seen carrying any weapon for security.

Unlike the MQM-P, which is playing the ‘Mohajir card’, the politics of the PSP revolves around civic issues confronting the city and the province. The head of the party, which has a significant presence in Pakhtun- and Baloch-dominated areas of the metropolis, has made it clear that he will never use the Mohajir card for his politics, though the PSP raised its voice against the provisional results of the sixth population census. The Supreme Court recently fixed its petition against the census results for hearing after the July 25 election.

For Mr Kamal, who himself is contesting one NA and two provincial assembly seats in Karachi, losing election is not an option since it will be considered as people’s rejection of his anti-Altaf stance. For this reason, winning election is a matter of life and death for the PSP. Mr Kamal has been preparing for the elections for the past one year. He made efforts to bring the MQM-P on board but internal squabbling marred their cadre so much that it appears it may affect their performance in the upcoming general elections.

At the PSP head office, an election cell works round the clock. After the latest delimitation of electoral constituencies, the party believes that it can easily win 14 of the 21 NA seats in Karachi and both Hyderabad seats as its opponents — the MQM-P, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf — lack proper organisational structure. A party needs at least 16,000 polling agents, both male and female, to man all polling stations in Karachi and the PSP claims it is the only party that has the required strength.

For the remaining seven NA seats in Karachi, the PSP admits that there will be a tough fight with the Pakistan Peoples Party and other contesting parties.

Despite having the organisational structure, no one is certain whether the PSP is capable of getting winning votes — mostly from Karachi and Hyderabad’s Urdu-speaking community — in the upcoming general elections, because it has not contested any of the by-elections since its formation in March 2016.

In Mr Kamal’s own words, “this election will decide the fate of the next 10 generations whether they want a confrontation on ethnic lines or to live with peace, love and brotherhood”.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2018

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