Smokers’ corner: The NA-247 Armageddon

Updated July 15, 2018

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Illustration by Abro
Illustration by Abro

For a long time, Karachi’s NA-250 has been one of the city’s most unpredictable constituencies. It still is. Now even more so, as due to last year’s delimitation of constituencies, it has been merged with NA-249 to become NA-247. One of the biggest constituencies of Karachi has become even larger.

As NA-250, it constituted the city’s main “posh” localities as well as some thickly-populated middle- and working-class areas. All of these localities are dotted by hefty pockets of Mohajir, Pakhtun, Baloch, Punjabi and Sindhi populations. The ethnic and class diversity of this constituency has become even more widespread with the merger of NA-249.

Between 1988 and 2008, Karachi as a whole was overwhelmingly an Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) stronghold, but with pockets such as Lyari and Malir often going to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). The Mohajir majority of the city (now about 41 percent of Karachi’s population) predominantly voted for MQM, whereas the city’s Sindhi, Baloch and some Pakhtun segments cast their ballots in favour of the PPP.

Thirty-two candidates are vying for a constituency where no party has managed to maintain a political hold

However, with the entry of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) during the 2013 election, the PPP’s vote bank in the city was drastically reduced. According to the June 2013 issue of the Herald, this was especially due to the fact that the Pakhtun population of the city and Karachi’s Sindhi middle-classes opted to vote for PTI, which got the second largest number of votes in Karachi in 2013.

What’s more, even though PTI failed to dislodge the MQM from most of its strongholds in the city, it did manage to bring down MQM’s margins of victory by eating into its once impenetrable vote bank.

Nevertheless, both PPP and MQM managed to bounce back during some by-elections of 2016 and 2017 and, particularly, during the 2015 local bodies’ elections, in which both the parties wiped out whatever influence PTI had managed to gain in 2013.

During this period, PTI’s Karachi leadership was heard grumbling that the PTI chief was squarely concentrating on gaining ground against PML-N in Punjab, thus squandering the electoral gains that the party had made in Karachi in 2013. The situation became even more frustrating for the party’s Karachi leadership when MQM eventually splintered into three factions. During two by-elections held in the city in 2017, most Mohajir voters did not venture out to vote. Those who did, voted for the PPP. The PPP also managed to bag many Pakhtun and Punjabi votes in these by-elections. PTI, on the other hand, was taken to the cleaners.

But as Karachi’s electoral politics opened up after MQM’s disintegration, in a late move, PTI has decided to field some of its top guns here for the coming July 25 general election.

This includes Imran Khan himself, who will be contesting from the city’s NA-243 seat. In fact, almost every major party is now looking to make serious electoral inroads here as MQM’s largest faction, MQM-P, tries to fend off the challenge posed by its other major faction, Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP), in various MQM strongholds.

But NA-250 was always an open constituency. It has never been any particular party’s stronghold. The situation remains the same even now with its merger with NA-249.

Like NA-250, the newly-formed NA-247 too constitutes large parts of the city’s upper-income areas — Clifton, Defence and Bath Island — as well as the lower-middle-income and Mohajir-majority area of Burnes Road. Added to these now is the low-to-middle-income area of Kharadar which was once part of NA-249.

According to a May 17, 2013 report in Dawn, the upper- and middle-income segments of Clifton, Defence and Bath Island constitute almost one-third of the registered voters here, which is quite a large number.

They are of mixed ethnicities, mainly Mohajir, Pakhtun, Punjabi and Sindhi, whereas the low-income pockets within the posh areas are largely Pakhtun and Punjabi. Burnes Road on the other hand is largely Mohajir.

Kharadar has a slight Mohajir majority, closely followed by Baloch and Sindhi groups. But most Mohajirs here are Gujarati-speaking Memons. Since 1988, the Memons of Kharadar have largely been voting for MQM, with the PPP coming second.

But Kharadar is also perhaps the only area in Karachi where the Sunni Barelvi party, the Sunni Tehreek (ST), has managed to exercise some influence, even though it has never been able to win an election here.

However, riding on the canvassing done in Kharadar by ST over the years, the recently-launched radical and controversial Barelvi outfit, the Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), has aggressively entered the fray to usurp as many Barelvi Memon votes here as possible.

Thus, just like the old NA-250, the contest in NA-247 will remain one of the toughest to predict. The main contenders here are PTI’s Dr Arif Alvi (who won NA-250 in 2013), veteran PPP man Abdul Aziz (a Memon popular in Kharadar), MQM-P’s Farooq Sattar (another Memon who won NA-249 in 2008 and 2013), PSP’s Fauzia Kasuri (a former PTI stalwart), PML-N’s Dr Afanullah Khan, Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal’s M. H. Methani, TLP’s Syed Zaman Shah and the independent social media personality and human rights activist M. Jibran Nasir.

A brief history of the election results of the areas in NA-247 can elaborate just how unpredictable this constituency really is.

During the 1970 election many of the areas that are now within NA-247 came under NA-134 (Karachi VII). Shah Ahmad Noorani of the moderate Barelvi party JUP won from here, after getting 28,304 votes. PPP’s Noorul Afrin came second with 22,609 votes.

In 1977, this constituency was expanded and became NA-191. Munawar Hussain of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) won here with 73,997 votes. PPP’s candidate, the famous Urdu poet Jamiluddin Aali, came second with 33,086 votes.

In 1988, this constituency was won by MQM’s Tariq Mehmood who received 36,746 votes. Sarwar Malik of the Punjabi-Pakhtun Ittihad (PPI) came second with 28,145 votes.

The NA elections of 1993 were boycotted by MQM. So PML-N’s Captain Haleem managed to win NA-191 with 31,414 votes. JI’s Munawar Hassan came a distant second with 8,550 votes.

In 1997, PML-N again won here closely defeating the MQM candidate. In 2002, NA-191 was expanded and it became NA-250. During the 2002 elections, JI’s Abdus Sattar Afghani won the seat with 21,462 votes. MQM’s Nasreen Jalil came second with 19,414 votes.

In 2008, MQM’s Khushbakht Shujaat won here with 52,045 votes. PPP’s Dr Ikhtiar Baig came second with 44,412 votes. In 2013, the constituency was won by PTI’s Arif Alvi with 76,305 votes. MQM came second with 28,374.

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 15th, 2018