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MQM’s reckoning?

Updated July 31, 2018

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AFTER more than a three-decade hold over Karachi’s electoral politics, the MQM faced a sobering reality on election day: its once tight grip over the metropolis has loosened as in both National and Sindh Assembly constituencies in the city, the PTI carried the day.

Perhaps it would be premature to write the Muttahida’s political obituary; still, the electorate, part of which is possibly on the lookout for a national party to solve their problems, has sent a definite message to the MQM, that emotional slogans and entreaties to ethnic sentiments are not enough, and the voter wants results.

While it is still too early to analyse the election results from the city, a few pointers may explain the surprising outcome. Of course, amongst the prime reasons behind the MQM’s predicament was the constant infighting between the PIB and Bahadurabad factions.

While public disagreements between Muttahida leaders were once unthinkable — especially under Altaf Hussain’s watch — ever since the supremo was sidelined after his controversial 2016 speech, there has been a very visible power struggle within the MQM’s various factions.

The farcical 24-hour marriage with the PSP is a small example of the lack of direction within the MQM.

Secondly, many of the party’s diehard, ideological supporters stayed home over Mr Hussain’s boycott call. And when all is said and done, it is also true that in the aftermath of the security establishment’s 2015 crackdown on the MQM, the party’s ability to indulge in ‘management’ of the polling process has been significantly reduced.

The MQM has cried foul over rigging allegations; yet, it is ironic that in elections past the party was accused by its opponents of indulging in rigging, stuffing ballot boxes, and in general, ‘managing’ the poll process under the threat of violence.

Today, despite all allegations of irregularities during voting, it is a fact that there is an air of political freedom in Karachi, and the people are generally free to vote as they choose.

From here on, what is the future of the MQM? While it has a genuine vote bank in urban Sindh, and to its credit the party has sent members of the middle class to the assemblies, the Muttahida’s reputation for violence has stuck.

Perhaps the first step would be to acknowledge the wrongs of the past, especially the party’s violent strikes and its promotion of an aggressive political culture in Karachi.

The election results may be humbling for the MQM, but this could be a moment to introspect, shed the baggage of the past and look forward to a less controversial future.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2018