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KARACHI: This newly-carved constituency brings hope for a good number of its inhabitants who endure, among other hardships, persisting water shortages as a number of them believe that Shahbaz Sharif could be the ‘messiah’ they are waiting for if he clinches it and becomes the next prime minister.

The three-time chief minister of Punjab and now president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz after disqualification of his elder brother appears to have the odds in his favour to win the seat.

This seat, after being carved out from erstwhile NA-239 and NA-240, somehow reduces the chances of the MQM, which had been winning a larger part of it falling in former NA-240, along with winning NA-239 twice, which is now NA-248.

PPP’s Qadir Mandokhel, MQM’s Aslam Shah and PTI’s Faisal Vawda are also in the run

This constituency is among the seats where Sindh borders Balochistan and is exclusively composed of the entire Baldia Town including Rasheedabad, Saeedabad, Qaimkhani Colony, Ittehad Town, Gulshan-i-Manzoor, Eidgah Mor, Gulshan-i-Bilal and Gulshan-i-Tauheed. Besides, Zia Colony, which was earlier a part of the Orangi constituency, has been merged with it.

The areas like Shershah and Pak Colony have been slashed and made part of NA-248 and NA-250 respectively.

The Karachi West district was earlier the second most populous district of the metropolis after Karachi Central. However, with the current census, it has become the largest by size and claimed all additional five constituencies of the city — one of the National Assembly and four of the provincial legislature.

This new constituency has large populations of Pakhtun, Urdu-speaking, Hazarawal, Sindhi, and Punjabi communities.

There is ample support for the PML-N, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, Pakistan Peoples Party, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, Awami National Party and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.

In the past elections, MQM has been winning the areas making erstwhile NA-240 comfortably.

The new constituency has lost many large pockets of MQM support, thus, it opens prospects for all other political parties who bank on various ethnic groups inhabiting it.

Apart from Mr Sharif, 14 other candidates are contesting for the seat, which included five independents.

The MQM has fielded Aslam Shah, while Faisal Vawda and Qadir Khan Mandokhel are pitted by the PTI and the PPP, respectively.

Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, Grand Democratic Alliance and Pak Sarzameen Party have fielded Attaullah Shah, Abdul Sattar and Fouzia Hameed respectively.

Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party’s Haji Mohammad and Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan’s Abid Hussain are also contesting from the same seat.

With 257 polling stations and 664 polling booths, this constituency will host 331,430 voters — 129,889 female and 201,541 male.

Most of the parties are specifically targeting Pakhtun, Urdu-speaking and Hazarawal votes while many have fielded their candidates belonging to those communities.

The PML-N leadership is confident that its chief would “comfortably” win the election as the party is claiming that Mr Sharif would not withdraw from this constituency after winning it.

“Shahbaz Sharif is among the three candidates for the next PM’s post and if he wins this constituency, he would prefer withdrawing [from] a more secure constituency in Lahore and not this one,” claimed a leader of the PML-N.

“Still, this is not an easy seat to win,” said another party leader, “but, people hope that Shahbaz Sharif will be there as their messiah to get their impoverished neighbourhoods rid of the longstanding issues”.

A local PML-N leader said Mr Sharif had assured them that “he would be sacrificing all other constituencies, but will retain NA-249”.

Seat adjustments

The PML-N has won “unconditional” support from the Awami National Party; however, such alliances are not without complications. Its Sindh leadership thinks the NA seat would have been further ‘secured’ had it been guarded with the seat-adjustment offer of the MMA in which the latter sought the PML-N’s support on the two Sindh Assembly seats to withdraw its candidate against Mr Sharif.

Many local leaders were in favour of such adjustment, but those allotting tickets to candidates refused any such arrangement, “leaving all three seats with certain element of uncertainty”, as some leaders believe.

The MQM’s existential issues have reduced its chances to win NA-249, though its performance here during the 2015 local government elections indicated a better showing.

The PPP leadership, conversely, said the seat was an open opportunity for all the parties. However, some party leaders conceded that the PML-N’s performance in the past LG elections gave it an edge over other players.

Out of 10 union committees, which fall in this constituency, PML-N had won five; MQM secured four while a joint panel of the PPP and the JUI-F had won the remaining one.

Sources in the PML-N, however, conceded that chances of their candidates on the two provincial assembly seats making up NA-249 were slim because of bickering within the party over issuance of tickets to certain “outsiders”.

They said the local party cadres were not at ease with Khawaja Ghulam Shoaib, a relative of Khawaja Saad Rafiq, who was given party ticket by ignoring others on PS-115.

They, however, claimed Haji Salaheen on PS-116 had better chances of winning.

Both MQM and the PPP are confident to win at least one of the two Sindh Assembly seats.

Similarly, PTI, MMA and PSP pin hopes on the new scenario after delimitations and changing demography of the city that has opened chances for them along with other political forces to register victory on NA-249 and related Sindh Assembly seats.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2018

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