KARACHI: Amid many surprises and upsets in general elections 2018, Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan has emerged as a new force to claim the highest number of religious votes in Karachi. It beat the five-party alliance Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, which many say is fast losing support of mainstream parties of the Barelvi school of thought.

The TLP, however, says it is a “well-deserved” rise for the party, which came into the limelight after the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed and convicted killer of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, with the name of Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (PBUH). The TLP turned into a political party last year when it launched a protest sit-in across the country against the alleged change in the oath for lawmakers in parliament and the declaration for voters regarding Khatm-i-Nubuwwat.

‘We got 321,000 votes in Karachi for our NA candidates; the number of votes for our PA candidates is much higher’

“We got 321,000 votes in Karachi for our National Assembly candidates while the number of votes for our Sindh Assembly candidates is much higher and we won two [PA seats],” said Bilal Ghazi of the TLP. “We could perform much better if the results were not held back. In three provincial assembly and in one National Assembly seats, the results were changed. We could have won at least six Sindh Assembly seats and one of the National Assembly.”

He said the role of the TLP during the past two years helped it make inroads with religious voters, who had been disappointed by the mainstream religious parties. It was a “natural rise”, he said, which was successfully turned into votes by the party.

“The decision on this would be made by our Majlis-i-Shura at its meeting next week,” he said when asked about the expected role of the TLP legislators on treasury or opposition benches in parliament. “Whatever is decided, we have a two-point agenda as a party — enforce the Shariat of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in the country and defend Khatm-i-Nubuwat.”

The Barelvi vote

The mainstream religious parties of the Barelvi school of thought are not ready to concede defeat but cautiously agree that the people have voted for the TLP in larger numbers. Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan-Noorani, which is part of the MMA, and the Sunni Tehreek, which failed to put up an impressive show, put the blame on “rigged and unfair elections” rather than growing support for the new party.

“We as the MMA have already rejected the elections and its results. So it would not be wise to separately comment on the performance of one party in Karachi alone. You see the process as a whole and we believe that it was not a free and fair election whether it’s Karachi or any other part of the country. In this context, how one can judge performance of any party,” said a spokesman for the JUP-N — a viewpoint seconded by the Sunni Tehreek.

However, the rosy picture painted by the TLP leaders for their rising support and its rejection by the JUP-N and ST, both appear unfair assessments for political pundits and analysts, who see the party growing with a certain ideology also has the support of state forces, which have brought it into electoral politics and made its acceptable in the people despite serious criticism.

“The religious slogans have always been reasons for the rise of parties but in this case [TLP] our state has used [it] for short-term projects that simultaneously has won them respect and legitimacy in the people,” says Dr Jafar Ahmad, formerly of the Pakistan Study Centre at the University of Karachi. “With the passage of time I think this is going to become a serious problem. Secondly, the mainstream religious parties we have such as the Jamaat-i-Islami and JUP, they are now seriously lacking sobriety and depth. For instance, the JI, which was once linked with intellectuality, thought or ideological process, [it] has come to a halt and gradually it’s losing ground to others.”

Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2018

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