AFTER the May 2013 general elections, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement had emerged as the only representative party of Karachi and Hyderabad. It won 17 of 20 National Assembly seats in Karachi and all two seats in Hyderabad. And in 2015, the party then led by London-based founder Altaf Hussain, swept local government elections in the two cities despite facing a Rangers-led operation. But five years later that party no longer exists in its original form. The situation is so grim that nobody, not even those in the MQM, now called the MQM-Pakistan, knows whether the party could retain even the national and provincial assembly seats in its traditional stronghold of Karachi’s Central district in the July 25 elections.
By August 2016, the once-unified MQM was divided into Mustafa Kamal-led Pak Sarzameen Party, the Altaf-led MQM-London and Dr Farooq Sattar-led MQM-P. Earlier this year, the MQM-P split into MQM-Bahadurabad and MQM-PIB. Last month, the two factions reconciled but the split persists and some disgruntled leaders and workers previously associated with the MQM-PIB formed their own group — the workers action committee — against the MQM-Bahadurabad.
This time around, despite a poll boycott announced by Mr Hussain the MQM-P is very much in the electoral arena and it has fielded candidates on all national and provincial seats in Sindh’s urban areas. But, its well-known faces, like senior leaders Amir Khan, Nasreen Jalil, Faisal Subzwari, choose to stay away from the polls due to unknown reasons.
Dr Sattar — who ousted Mr Hussain in August 2016 only to meet the same fate 18 months later — is contesting elections on two NA seats in Karachi. MQM-P convener Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui is also in the run on an NA seat in Central district.
The MQM-P and PSP are contesting the election separately, are they capable of winning maximum seats? I don’t think so.
A former office-bearer of the unified MQM
Despite having comparatively good relations with the establishment, the MQM-P could not get clearance for its another senior leader Haider Abbas Rizvi, who last month returned to Karachi from Canada but was forced to leave the country within 24 hours of his arrival.
The MQM’s downfall began with its electoral victory in 2013. Mr Hussain was not happy with the number of votes the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf got from the city and as a result senior leadership of his own party faced his wrath as he sent them packing after the infamous May 19, 2013 manhandling episode.
But 2015 was the most difficult year for the MQM when the military establishment openly turned its guns towards the party. First, the Rangers raided its Nine Zero headquarters on March 11 and claimed to have seized arms and ammunition and arrested dozens of wanted suspects. A week later, a video statement of death-row inmate Saulat Mirza of the MQM in which he implicated top leadership in the assassination of KESC managing director Shahid Hamid made it clear that the party was no more a favourite of the powers that be.
In these circumstances, MQM MNA Nabeel Gabol announced his resignation from the NA-246 constituency in Azizabad. However, despite all odds, the MQM won the by-election with a heavy margin and without any allegation of rigging or using strong-arm tactics. Also in the same year, the MQM swept LG polls in Karachi, Hyderabad and Mirpurkhas, although its mayors and chairmen became functional in August 2016.
And when the MQM proved to its detractors that it genuinely enjoys support of the masses and can win elections without resorting to strong-arm tactics, Mr Kamal and senior leader Anis Kaimkhani returned from the UAE and formed the PSP. About six months later, Mr Hussain delivered an incendiary speech following which his own people parted ways with him.
Prospects look dim
Mr Hussain still wields influence among the MQM-P cadre and that’s why the party leadership has not taken a clear-cut stance against him. The party’s senior leadership privately concedes that Mr Hussain’s boycott as well as internal squabbling would only hurt the MQM-P’s electoral prospects.
“There are two schools of thought within the MQM,” shares a senior leader, on the condition of anonymity. “The optimists believe that the Urdu-speaking people always voted for the party and they are genuinely attached to its election symbol ‘kite’. The pessimists feel the Mohajirs voted for Altaf bhai and they will not trust any other individual except him in the elections.”
The leader finds himself in between the optimist and pessimist groups and believes the MQM-P stands a good chance “in more educated Mohajir-dominated areas than say Orangi Town”.
However, others are wary of the division in the Mohajir vote bank that they see will only benefit the PPP, PTI and MMA.
“The MQM-P and PSP are contesting the election separately; are they capable of winning maximum seats? I don’t think so,” said a former office-bearer of the unified MQM.
He said he did not think in the absence of Mr Hussain the Urdu-speaking voters would come out of their homes in huge numbers on the day of polling to give votes to candidates separately fielded by Dr Sattar/Amir Khan and Mr Kamal/Anis Kaimkhani.
“Let say just 1,000 people will abstain from voting on [Altaf Hussain’s] boycott call...will it affect other parties or the MQM and PSP?” he asked and replied: “Definitely MQM and PSP.”
The former office-bearer says it’s a fact that there are a number of people who would under any circumstances vote for ‘kite’ because of their decades-long association with the MQM. “But our colleagues are daydreaming if they think the party get winning votes merely on an election symbol and in the absence of Altaf Hussain.”
Another problem the MQM-P has been facing is the new delimitation of constituencies. Some people believe that even if all factions of the MQM, including PSP and MQM-L, got united to contest the election they could not repeat the previous general election’s performance since new constituencies had been created only to favour the PPP and to show that the MQM no longer enjoys the city’s mandate.
Also, the party has been facing a strong criticism for the poor performance of its LG representatives and its rival parties — the PTI, PSP and even PPP — are exploiting the worst state of cleanliness in the MQM-dominated areas.
Despite having mayors in Karachi and Hyderabad and most of the elected LG set-up at municipal corporations and union committees level, the MQM-P has failed to address even the basic issue of sanitation. Even Karachi’s Central district, where its erstwhile Nine Zero headquarters is located, presents a look of a huge garbage dump.
Regardless of all its problems, the party pins hope on the ‘Mohajir card’ for winning a significant number of both national and provincial assembly seats. However, they understand well regaining past glory is next to impossible, at least for now.
Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2018