KARACHI: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s decision to field its chairman Imran Khan from what it said is a comparatively unsecure Karachi National Assembly constituency, NA-243, has not only generated an extraordinary interest in the election, but also brought the constituency into the national mainstream.  

Mr Khan will be facing 14 other candidates including Syeda Shehla Raza of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Ali Raza Abidi of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, Muzammil Qureshi of the Pak Sarzameen Party, Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal’s Osama Razi on July 25 — the day of polling.

The constituency has been carved out from areas of former NA-252 and parts of NA- 253.

While the MMA, MQM-P and PSP conceded that Mr Khan had a potential to upset the results, the PPP did not see any threat from the PTI.

The PTI concedes the Mohajir-dominated constituency is comparatively less secure

PPP leader Ghulam Qadir, whose wife and former deputy speaker of the Sindh Assembly Shehla Raza is the party’s candidate from NA-243, said: “There is no match of the PPP with Imran Khan.”

He said because of the split in the MQM, “we hope that a large chunk of vote could be cultivated in favour of the PPP”.

However, analysts said Mr Abidi of the MQM-P, Mr Razi of the MMA and Mr Qureshi of the PSP could not be ignored in the election due to their respective organisational networks.

PTI leader Firdaus Shamim Naqvi agreed that there were at least two NA constituencies that were more secure for Mr Khan than NA-243 because of “population demography”.

“But the party agreed on NA-243 to address the complaint of Urdu-speaking people of Karachi that they were left isolated and that Mohajirs are being pushed against the wall,” he said.

Mr Naqvi said that the election of the PTI chief from this constituency would bring Karachi into the national mainstream.

He agreed that one could not expect all the voters in the constituency to cast their vote for Mr Khan, but certainly majority of the voters would go with him as they were disappointed with the performance of the PPP and MQM.

Mr Qureshi of the PSP, who was elected as an MNA from the same area in 2013 general election from the platform the MQM, said he had won the election because of Altaf Hussain’s vote bank, but this time around the MQM was no more united and its vote bank had been divided into two or more groups. Besides, Altaf Hussain had announced a boycott of the elections, he said.

“The electorates of the constituency are educated people who could not be hoodwinked merely on emotional slogans,” he said.

He said he had bright chances of winning the election since as the area MNA he had not only resolved pressing problems but also carried out development work. He said he was associated with the party of former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal who was known for his work.

Another factor which may go in his favour was the fact that Mr Khan’s appeal was no longer the same as of 2013. Only in 2015, the PTI failed to get positive results in Karachi’s local government elections because of a lack of public support.

MQM-P’s Abidi, who was also a former MNA from another constituency, was asked about his chances of getting elected in the presence of a clear split within the party.

He claimed that there was no more split and “ground reality shows our traditional voters are intact like before and they [will] come out on July 25 to fully participate in the elections”.

Demographic changes

When asked about MMA’s chances, as in 2002 its candidate Asadullah Bhutto had won the election from the same area, Mr Abidi said that since 2002 there had been quite a few changes in the demography of the constituency. “Most of the people have shifted elsewhere, Sohrab Goth and other rural areas have been included in NA-242. Now most of the population represents liberal views.”

He also ruled out any chances of the PTI from NA-243, saying over 65 per cent population was Urdu- and Gujarati-speaking people in the constituency and Mr Khan might not get their votes since he “offended Urdu-speaking people in his recent visit by ruling out the creation of a Karachi province while strongly pleading for creating the southern Punjab province.”  

However, MMA’s Osama Razi was quite hopeful of winning the seat. He said in 2008 and 2013 elections the MQM had full backing of the establishment and that the religious vote bank was divided in the absence of the MMA. “After the revival of the MMA, we are quite confident to return from the constituency as we have gained ground and if free and fair elections are held we would make it.”

In the NA-243 constituency, the total number of registered voters is 401,833, including 190,665 female voters.

The areas include Bahadurabad, Sharfabad, Liaquat National Hospital, Aga Khan Hospital, Faizan-i-Madina, Expo Centre, Hasan Square, Panama Centre, Baitul Mukkaram Mosque, Shanti Nagar, Mujahid Colony, Aladdin Park, Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Metroville-3, Karachi University and Gulistan-i-Jauhar.

A total of 15 candidates are in the run, including Imran Khan (PTI), Ali Raza Abidi (MQM-P), Shehla Raza (PPP), Mohammad Muzammil Qureshi (PSP), Osama Razi (MMA), Shahjahan (PML-N), Syed Nawaz Huda (Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan), Syed Ali Raza (Mohajir Qaumi Movement-Haqiqi), Abdul Wahab (Pakistan Justice and Democratic Party) and others.

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2018