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Situationer: Requiem for PSP?

Updated July 27, 2018

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Pak Sarzameen Party chairman Mustafa Kamal distributing pamphlets during his election campaign in Hyderabad.—APP
Pak Sarzameen Party chairman Mustafa Kamal distributing pamphlets during his election campaign in Hyderabad.—APP

THE failure of Mustafa Kamal-led Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) in its first electoral test is being seen as a rejection of his anti-Altaf Hussain narrative that he tried to sell to the Urdu-speaking community over the past two years.

Although official results have yet to be announced, provisional returns make it clear that the PSP would not be able to get even one seat in Karachi. The city has 21 seats in the National Assembly and 44 in the Sindh Assembly. The party’s performance was so pathetic that results placed it at fifth or sixth position in many constituencies.

Mr Kamal himself contested Wednesday’s election from one National Assembly and two provincial assembly seats in Karachi and, according to unofficial results, lost in all three constituencies miserably.

Over the past two years, Mr Kamal’s politics revolved round an anti-MQM narrative, blaming his former party and its London-based founder for all ills and repeatedly seeking help of the Urdu-speaking community to carry out the “last rites” of the MQM.

Party’s poor showing in polls comes as a surprise because it was thought to have been created by the establishment

The MQM’s opponents see Mr Kamal as a courageous man who stood up to his former boss and even spoke of his (Altaf Hussain’s) alleged links with the Indian intelligence agency.

But MQM’s supporters and sympathisers see him as a ‘traitor’ who deserves no mercy because he betrayed not only his party but also its supremo.

Wednesday’s poll proved that Mr Kamal was able to secure a significant electoral support from neither anti-MQM forces nor from Mr Hussain’s loyalists. The latter chose a fragmented MQM-P over his party in many city constituencies, including the three from where he himself contested.

All said and done, for many people the PSP’s defeat has come as a rude shock because it was widely seen as the establishment’s party. They thought that the powers that be would go to any length to get the desired results for Mr Kamal who had challenged Altaf Hussain when nobody dared stand against him.

But it appears that instead of helping Mr Kamal’s party, the establishment worked against it — as many PSP members allege in private. They think that the powers that be helped the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and even MQM-P — to punish the former Karachi mayor for his defiance.

Following the “creation” of the MQM-P a day after Mr Hussain made an incendiary speech on Aug 22, 2016, the establishment had asked Mr Kamal and Anis Kaimkhani to disband their party and return to the MQM fold to help consolidate the Muhajir vote bank on one platform. However, Mr Kamal resisted the move and told the establishment that he would prefer to leave the country instead of rejoining Mr Hussain’s party.

Only last year, the establishment had brokered an alliance between the PSP and MQM-P under which both parties agreed to form another party to contest the elections from one platform. The alliance, however, lasted a mere 24 hours and subsequent events suggest that he fell out of favour with the establishment. (Mr Kamal had alluded to the hand of a serving army official and alleged that the MQM-P was created in his office).

There was a realisation within the establishment that Mr Kamal’s party had failed to attract a majority of Urdu-speaking people. So certain elements started patronising the MQM-P as they thought the party would fill the political vacuum after Mr Hussain’s forced ouster.

During the March 11 Senate elections, the PSP was told to support Pakistan Muslim League-Functional candidate Muzaffar Hussain Shah as well as MQM-P candidates — Dr Farogh Nasim and Kamran Tessori — but it voted for Mr Shah only.

Earlier this month, the establishment asked Mr Kamal to withdraw some PSP candidates in favour of Imran Khan’s PTI from certain Karachi constituencies. The PSP chairman refused to do so and insiders said that in a show of defiance he even left the meeting halfway.

The PSP leadership attributes its defeat in the general election to that episode. It no more trusts the establishment, but at the same time doesn’t think it is wise to go into a confrontational mode. Therefore, it was very cautious in giving its first reaction to the setback it suffered on Wednesday.

Dr Sagheer Ahmed, the senior vice chairman of the PSP, said his party “rejects the election results”.

Repeating the allegation that his party’s agents were forced out of polling stations, he criticised the Election Commission and said it had made the polls a joke since no one knew as to where the count was carried out. (Dr Sagheer lost the National Assembly election in Karachi’s NA-245 constituency).

He said his party would adopt a strategy in line with the Constitution and the law. The PSP would attend a multi-party conference being convened by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the PSP leader added.

“We will continue to represent Karachi and take measures to further strengthen our organisation,” he said, claiming that it was the PSP which had banished fear and uncertainty from Karachi.

Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2018