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KARACHI: NA-253 Karachi Central-I is a new constituency and comprises the areas of New Karachi subdivision. Previously, some of its areas were included in then NA-243 Karachi Central-cum-Karachi West, which is now rebranded as NA-243 Karachi East-II, whereas some of the areas of new NA-253 were also in NA-244 and NA-245, both previously called Karachi Central but now known as Karachi East-III and Karachi East-IV, respectively.

Even when the constituency areas were divided among the three numbers, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) would dominate the elections, with the party’s Abdul Waseem successful at NA-243, Sheikh Salahuddin at NA-244, and Mohammad Rehan Hashmi at NA-245 in 2013.

MQM’s electoral performance here has been extraordinary and it has conveniently defeated its opponents with huge margins. In the 2002 elections, NA-243 Karachi-V was won by MQM’s Sultan Ahmed Khan, who defeated the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) runner-up Advocate Mohammad Saleemuddin Qureshi by 49,105 votes.

PSP chief is the most prominent candidate to run from this constituency

In the 2008 elections, Abdul Waseem of the MQM defeated the PPPP’s Advocate Zafar Ahmed Siddiqui by 145,617 votes. In the 2013 elections, Abdul Waseem made it to the National Assembly once again by defeating Zahid Hussain Hashmi of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) by 162,763 votes. Hashmi had got 29,875 votes against Abdul Waseem, somewhat better than Siddiqui’s 22,147 votes (2008). Also, there was no PTI candidate from here in 2008, and PPPP’s Syed Sohail Abidi had bagged only 5,831 votes.

NA-244 Karachi-VI was won in 2002 by MQM strongman Syed Haider Abbas Rizvi, who defeated MMA’s Dr Mairajul Huda Siddiqui by 25,542 votes. It was won in 2008 by Sheikh Salahuddin of the MQM, who got 174,044 votes against 9,271 votes of PPPP’s Ghulam Qadir. The constituency was won again in 2013 by Sheikh Salahuddin of the MQM, who secured 133,885 votes against 26,495 votes of PTI’s candidate Khalid Masood Khan.

The NA-245 seat was won by Kanwar Khalid Younus of the MQM, who got 51,696 votes against 41,947 of MMA’s Syed Munawwar Hassan. In 2008, it was Farhat Mohammad Khan of the MQM, who took the seat with 149,157 votes against 15,392 of Qazi Mohammad Bashir of the PPPP. In 2013, Mohammad Rehan Hashmi of the MQM won the seat with 115,776 votes against PTI’s Mohammad Riaz Haider, who got 54,937 votes.

This time, perhaps the most prominent candidate to run from this constituency is Syed Mustafa Kamal, founder and leader of the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP). Kamal, who had broken away from the MQM in 2016 to form his own party, is pitted against Usama Qadri of the MQM, Sarwat Aijaz Qadri of the Sunni Tehreek (ST) and Mohammad Ashraf Jabbar of the PTI. Qureshi, the PTI candidate, had contested the elections from here in 1997 when it was NA-189 Karachi Central-III as well, getting 1,434 votes. MQM’s Hasan Masna Alvi, fighting under Haq Parast Group’s banner, had won the elections by securing 105,323 votes.

More than 80 per cent of the population of NA-253 is Urdu-speaking and the rest of the population is Punjabis, Pakhtuns, Seraikis and Sindhis. This makes it a stronghold of the MQM where it has maintained its winning streak — although the winning margin was lower in the 2002 elections. This time, however, there are a number of factors that will have an impact on polling in NA-253.

Since it’s an MQM stronghold, it is to be seen if the boycott of elections by the MQM-L will have a significant effect on the polling, says political commentator and veteran journalist Ali Arqam.

According to Arqam, Kamal, whose political narrative revolves around Urdu-speaking identity but simultaneously denounces the MQM founder, has chosen such a constituency to fight that has remained loyal to the MQM and, therefore, the competition will essentially be between two factions of the Urdu-speaking community, with another faction abstaining from the polls altogether because of a boycott appeal by the MQM-L.

“Even the PTI will have to depend on appealing to the voters who have traditionally voted for the kite symbol. Add into it the MQM-L’s boycott appeal, and it is a difficult game altogether for all parties except the MQM-P,” he says, adding that the MQM had apparently played a smart move by fielding Usama Qadri, former MPA and town nazim against Kamal.

Political analyst and senior journalist Abdul Jabbar Nasir thinks that Kamal will put up a good competition against Qadri, but thinks the boycott factor will not weigh in much. “Even if the polls are boycotted by a chunk of MQM-L loyalists, there will still be a big number of MQM voters of the past who will find it better to elect a representative,” he says. Nasir thinks that Qadri will have benefit of the MQM’s traditional vote bank here.

The NA-253 constituency comprises mostly middle- and lower-middle class areas of New Karachi subdivision. It comprises New Karachi Town, except sectors 11-F, 11-G, 11-D and 11-J and Godhra areas of New Karachi. The total number of registered voters is 404,053 with 230,826 male voters and 173,227 female voters. There are 268 polling stations with 945 polling booths.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mentioned the total number of votes as 4,040,503 and 173,277 female voters. The figures have been updated to reflect correct figures. The error is regretted.

Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2018