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Footprints: When Lyari voted for change

Updated July 29, 2018

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A BUSY road in Bhempura locality of Lyari with flags and posters of major political parties.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
A BUSY road in Bhempura locality of Lyari with flags and posters of major political parties.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

OF the many election results that left political observers nonplussed, the result from Lyari (NA-246) was one. Lyari is one of the oldest settlements of the city and is embedded in the national imagination as a once hotbed of gang violence and insecurity, but also as a place where the Bhutto family has never faced defeat. It is safe to say that Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s defeat from the constituency is not only a first for the party, but also one of the biggest jolts the party has faced in the metropolis.

The seat went instead to Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Abdul Shakoor Shad, who received 52,750 votes. The total number of votes cast was 206,577, while the total number of voters in the constituency was 536,688.

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Stretching over 1,800 acres of Karachi’s South district, the densely populated locality of Lyari has been the one place the PPP could rely on to win a seat from since 1970. It is considered to be the party’s strongest fort in the provincial capital. Bilawal’s mother, slain PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto, won from here in 1988 and his father, former president Asif Ali Zardari, won the seat in the 1990’s general elections. It would not be incorrect to say that a shift of loyalty, from voters who have been loyal to the party for decades, over to the PTI, presents a decisive political moment for Lyari.

Mohammad Zahid, a resident of Bhempura, was once part of the late Benazir Bhutto’s security detail. He tells Dawn that one of the biggest reasons why the people of Lyari routed the PPP in these elections is that the party had neglected the locality altogether.

“The party awarded tickets to Shahjahan, Sania Naz and Javed Nagori in 2013, who had the backing of Uzair Baloch,” he says.

“Everybody knows that Uzair was involved in kidnappings and killings. The PPP backed the gang warfare and did not try to stop Zulfiqar Mirza, the then home minister, from supporting People’s Amn Committee which was formed in 2008,” he claims.

But one of the biggest reasons for deserting the PPP, shares Mohammad Saeed, who runs a roadside restaurant in Lyari, is that: “Residents of the area were tired of the PPP. The members of parliament elected in 2013 from our area did not pay attention to our issues.”

He says he is thankful to Nawaz Sharif for sending Rangers and bringing peace to Karachi. “But this time, I cast a vote for the PTI and the other for the MMA. The elections were not rigged,” he insists.

Discussing the widely-held assumption that the PPP lost because the Kutchhi community did not vote for them, Hasan Ali Marshal at the timber market says that is not true.

“Some Kutchhis may have some reservations, but they will never vote for any party other than the PPP. The Kutchhis voted for the PPP in these elections too. The PPP has awarded a ticket to a woman from the Kutchhi community on women’s reserved seat. Why would the Kutchhis be unhappy with the PPP then?” he questions.

The Kutchhis are said to be the worst-hit by gang violence in the area.

“The PPP carried out development works in Lyari. Benazir Bhutto University, Lyari General Hospital, Lyari Medical College, and Trauma Centre are some examples of PPP’s hard work.”

Marshal was a member of a 14-member committee under Nabeel Gabol which was constituted at the Bilawal House to look after the NA-246 elections. “I can say that the reason for Bilawal’s defeat was rigging. Our polling agents were not allowed to enter polling stations before 12 noon. The results were announced after 24 hours, which is impossible in a cosmopolitan city like Karachi,” he says. “Another reason for Bilawal’s defeat was that the parliamentarians elected from this area the last time had the backing of gang warfare members and they spoilt PPP’s image.”

He adds that the victories of Younus Soomro (TLP) from PS-107, Abdul Rasheed (MMA) from PS-108 and Ramzan (PTI) from PS-109 showed that Lyari was not completely in favour of the PTI.

PPP’s senior leader Saeed Ghani agrees. “It is absolutely impossible!” is how he describes Bilawal’s defeat from the constituency.

“I contested from PS-104 Mehmoodabad and won while Bilawal sahib contested from our strongest constituency in Karachi and lost. It is not possible,” he says.

He is aware of the concerns raised by residents of the locality. “The Kutchhis may have some issues but they cannot go against the chairman,” he says, insistent that the PTI’s candidate did not have popular support in the area.

Yet the winning candidate says that the people of Lyari have voted for change. “I was an old PPP jiyala and had recently joined the PTI. The PPP did not need me anymore. My journey with the PPP had begun in 1977. I was appointed an inspector in the FIA in 1989 by Benazir Bhutto and worked there until 2002,” Shad sheds light on his background.

“They want change. Even if you recount the votes or hold re-elections, I will again win. The people are unhappy with deteriorating civic conditions. A huge majority of Kutchhis voted for me,” says Shad.

Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2018