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KARACHI: As the election date is drawing closer, electioneering is picking up pace accordingly in the NA-241, Korangi III, constituency as elsewhere across the political landscape of Pakistan. All major parties have announced their manifestos, making huge promises of prosperity, justice, good governance, health, education and what not. Their candidates for national and provincial assembly seats are selling these promised goodies in retail.

If campaigning is anything to judge by, the Mustafa Kamal-led Pak Sarzameen Party has a slight edge over its political rivals in NA-241. Its workers, some of them well-experienced partisans of Altaf Hussain’s Muttahida Qaumi Movement, are better charged than that of the MQM-P, Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan

Tehreek-i-Insaf and the Jamaat-i-Islami contesting under the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal banner.

There are a total of 15 candidates contesting from the constituency, including MQM-P’s Moin Amir Pirzada, PTI’s Faheem Khan, PPP’s Moazzam Ali Qureshi, PSP’s Mohammad Danish Khan, MMA’s Saleem Hussain, TLP’s Tahir Iqbal, ANP’s Javed Zaman and PML-N’s Taib Zar Khan.

‘Now you will have to work really hard to win a seat no matter which party you belong to’

The constituency includes such neighbourhoods as Qayyumabad, Korangi Crossing, Korangi Industrial Area, Allahwala Town, Nasir Colony, Chakra Goth, Mohammad Ali Goth, Christian Town, Mehran Town, PNT Colony, Awami Colony, Bilal Colony, Gulzar Colony, Darussalam Housing Society, Lucknow Society, Korangi (excluding a few parts of it such as Zaman Town). The communities living here include Urdu-speaking people, Sindhis, Punjabis, Pakhtuns, Bengalis, Burmese, Hazarewals and Baltis.

In 2002 Nawab Mirza of the MQM won the seat getting 42,888 votes. The runner-up was MMA’s Syed Zahid Siraj, who secured 16,733 votes. More than a dozen people contested for the seat.

The 2008 general election was set to be held on Jan 8, but it was postponed because of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and the subsequent violence. Elections were later held on Feb 18 and the seat was won by the MQM’s Dr Muhammad Ayoub Shaikh. He secured 132,648 votes against runner-up Syed Sohail Abrar of the PPP, who received only 14,302 votes. There were eight contestants for the seat.

The general election 2013, held on May 11, was postponed on this constituency after ANP candidate Sadiq Zaman Khattak was killed on May 2, for which the banned Tehreek-i- Taliban Pakistan claimed credit. The by-election was held on Aug 22, won by MQM’s Muhammad Ali Rashid. He received 53,043 against his closest rival, PTI’ Mohammad Naeem, who got 5,855 votes. A total of 15 candidates were in the field.

As the previous results show the MQM had been the most popular party in the constituency. It not only won the elections, but won them convincingly. This time, however, no one expects them to repeat their previous performance.

Problems and predictions

The constituency is plagued with civic and social problems. The people here suffer piles of garbage, overflowing sewers, shortage of water, low gas pressure and frequent and prolonged power breakdowns.

The severity of the problems, however, differs from locality to locality. There are neighbourhoods where the MQM, which ruled the roost for many years, did help improve the civic conditions. Most roads and parks in the MQM bastion are in good shape. Naturally, it ignored the localities where it lacked support.

This time, too, all parties are active where they perceive they have a significant number of supporters. Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan’s, however, a different story. “It may spring a surprise in this constituency,” says an activist who worked for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement when it was a united force. A woman and a young man from the area Dawn talked to support the assertion.

Arsalan, a young telephone operator living at Korangi’s 41-B, says his area is abuzz with activities of TLP supporters. “They are taking out rallies, have hung and stuck party posters and banners bearing its chief’s picture all around. Their stance on the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat issue has found favour with the low-income people in the constituency no doubt. But at their corner meetings TLP leaders ask people about their problems of water, power, gas and sanitation and promise to solve those problems on a priority basis if elected.”

Although Arsalan is noncommittal about who he will vote for, Ms Shahabuddin, an office worker from the same area, is quite enthusiastic. “We’ll vote for the TLP.”

“But the area across the main road, called Sector 48-B, is the locality with PPP supporters in a majority. There Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s party is campaigning vigorously,” says Hasan, another resident of the area. “Voters may also think that as the PPP will be in power again, it will be in a better position to solve their problems.”

Imran Bukhari, a senior worker and staunch supporter of the Muttahida living in Grey River Apartments, is a candidate from PS-97 constituency, which is part of NA-241, but not on an MQM-P ticket. He is a candidate of what he says the ‘MQM workers party’.

He himself thinks that the Khadim Rizvi-led religious party has the potential to win this seat. But the PPP has much more resources at its disposal and in the absence of a real challenge from the MQM-P, it has a better chance to clinch the seat.

About his own chances as a Sindh Assembly candidate, he says: “The MQM is nobody’s fief and is a party of the workers. I have support of the local workers, who are working for me and I’m confident of winning the seat, PS-97.”

Another disgruntled worker of the Muttahida also sees little chance for the MQM to win the seat. “Moin Aamir Peerzada as the MQM candidate is not a popular figure in the constituency. Besides other things, people in the constituency allege he has sold the residents’ water supply line to certain industrialists,” he says.

“The Altaf Hussain era is over when a candidate was rest assured that he would wake up in the morning to learn that he or she has won the election. Now you will have to work really hard to win a seat no matter which party you belong to. You have to show to the constituents what individually or as part of the party you have done for them.”

Maqbool Elahi, a keen observer of local politics living on the Double Road, Korangi 2 ½, is impressed by the PSP electioneering. “I think the PSP would win this seat. It’s moving steadily in the right direction, appealing to all communities and at the same time reassuring the former MQM voters that their interests would not be compromised. It seems to have a solid support in the Urdu-speaking community. It may also attract voters from other communities.”

Kashif, a shopkeeper, however, says the PSP is “agencies party and if they want they can help the it win the seat”.

“Personally I think the PPP will win this seat. Their candidate is spending millions on his campaign and has even got the services of some MQM workers,” he adds.

Habib Alam, a vegetable vendor from Chakra Goth, says he would vote for the party that has done development work in his locality. “And that’s none other than the Pakistan Peoples Party. They have rebuilt the tattered roads in the area. We hope that they will solve our locality’s other problems also.”

Abdul Khaliq, an aged Uber captain living in Allahwala Town, says the TLP is the most active party in his locality. “Besides it, the PTI is also doing a commendable job there. I’ll vote for it.”

But from the same area, Asif Sagheer says the PPP and MQM-P are doing well in the area. “The locality which is without piped water, sewerage and proper electricity supply is being promised a lot,” says Mr Sagheer.

Mehmood Shah, a resident of Qayyumabad, says the PTI is the most active party in the locality though the PPP is more visible in posters and flags. “In the last elections, rather byelection, Dr Arif Alvi had won the seat. At that time the locality was part of the NA-250 constituency. Alvi sahib visited us several times and helped solve some civic problems though he did not have much funds at his disposal,” he says. “The PPP is also holding corner meetings, but the next active party there is the TLP.”

About his choice of candidates, he says: “I’ll vote for the PTI on the NA seat and for the TLP on the provincial seat — one to save Pakistan and the other to save Islam.”

The Jamaat-i-Islami, which has a battalion of committed men and women workers, is not yet as much active in the area as it should probably have been. The JI’s electoral performance was lacklustre even in the last local government elections in the city.

The ANP also has its voters in areas such as Bilal Colony, Gulzar Colony, Shareefabad and Bhitai Colony. None of the localities has decent civic conditions, but the twin Bilal Colony and Gulzar Colony are situated behind the Pakistan Refinery and an array of tanneries, which make the lives of the denizens real miserable. The ANP votes in all Pakhtun-dominated localities are too few to make a significant difference.

Generally speaking, the voters are not much enthusiastic about any party this time. Candidates will have to galvanise their supporters on the morning of July 25 if they must win their respective seat.

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2018