KARACHI: Once a major stakeholder in Karachi’s politics, the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), a component of the five-party Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal alliance, has found itself reduced to only one provincial assembly seat in the 2018 general elections.

Arguably, its peak time in the electoral politics was in the 2002 elections when it fought elections from the platform of the MMA and won as many as five national assembly and seven seats of the Sindh Assembly. In later years, however, different factors played their role in the erosion of the JI’s support base.

In the recent polls, the only seat that the MMA was able to bag was PS-108 in Karachi’s Lyari area.

As many as 16 candidates of the MMA for 21 NA seats and 22 candidates for 44 PA seats belonged to the JI. All of them lost, except Syed Abdul Rasheed, a long-time JI activist and leader.

Those losing the elections include prominent names such as Asadullah Bhutto, Mohammad Hussain Mehanti, Hafiz Naeem ur Rehman, Mohammad Laeeq Khan, Meraj ul Huda Siddiqui, to name a few, who have been to the parliament before but failed this time.

One can see the JI’s activism on Karachi’s different civic issues including the shortage of electricity and overbilling, lack of Nadra centres, provision of water, hike in university fees and other issues. Apparently, the party’s efforts at portraying itself as an entity that fights for the rights of Karachi’s citizens have not been successful in gaining them any significant amount of votes.

The party got only one PA seat compared to TLP’s two in city

In contrast, the Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a recently-formed Barelvi organisation headed by firebrand Khadim Hussain Rizvi, has won more votes and seats in Karachi than the now 77-year-old JI.

In its initial years, the JI came out as an academically motivated organisation, which aimed at bringing a revolution without participating in elections. But in later years, amidst strong opposition from its own quarters, the party stepped in the electoral arena.

MQM and then PTI steal JI voters

Dr Syed Jafar Ahmed, former director of the Pakistan Study Centre at the University of Karachi, describes the evolution and devolution of the JI’s vote bank over the years.

He says the JI essentially drew its support from the Urdu-speaking middle-classes, which was wooed away by the MQM first, and then since 2013, it started to be attracted towards the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).

“The emergence of the MQM in 1984 started eroding the JI vote by attracting the Urdu-speaking vote towards itself. It also took away the Barelvi vote of Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP). Although it couldn’t take away the hardcore voters of the Jamaat, it did manage to gather a significant number of lower-middle class Barelvi and other right-wing voters,” he says.

According to Dr Ahmed, when the MQM’s vote bank disintegrated due to post-August 2016 events and due to infighting within the party, the broken votes went to the TLP and the PTI.

“People who were tired of the MQM’s politics, wanted an alternative, which the JI failed to provide them. Although, the PTI too didn’t make any strong inroads in 2013, it’s narrative on the national-level appealed to the population of Karachi,” he says.

“The Memons and Katchi communities have voted for the TLP in large numbers, resulting in their success especially in Lyari”, he says.

Political analyst and journalist Zia ur Rehman thinks that the narrative presented by the TLP, which started from the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, was way stronger and relevant to the audiences than the JI’s narrative was.

“In 2002, the MMA was able to garner support for itself by playing on the public sentiments against US-led invasion of Afghanistan. The TLP on the other hand, has been able to gain votes due to its narrative that is ‘more current’,” he says.

Expensive media campaigns

Although the MMA, in its electoral flyers and banners, insisted on the ‘character’ and ‘competence’ of the candidates that it had fielded, it couldn’t be translated into more votes. But the reasons for them are manifolds, according to Hafiz Naeem, the city chief of the JI.

Talking to Dawn, Rehman conceded that some of the party’s votes had gone to the PTI this time, but he pins the reason for it on ‘expensive’ media campaigns by other major parties which the MMA ‘couldn’t afford’, a national trend that was in favour of the PTI, and late revival of the MMA.

He also thinks the JI voters which chose PTI over the MMA this time, were rational in their choice, and they would ‘test’ PTI’s performance, and may return in future if their expectations remain unfulfilled.

He maintains that if there was no alleged eviction of their polling agents from polling stations during the counting phase, the alliance would have won at least three NA seats and several PA seats.

“We fielded the most honest and competent candidates, we have a track record of serving in Karachi, what other reason could there be for people to not vote for us?” he questions.

Political analyst and senior journalist Mazhar Abbas, however, thinks that merely having ‘honest’ and ‘competent’ candidates, or lodging a protest for civic amenities was not enough for winning elections.

“The JI can and does perform better in the local bodies elections, but the dynamics of provincial and national elections are completely different,” he says.

He says there is a general sect-based outlook that is associated with every religious party in Pakistan, due to which they fail to get votes from across the board. “Religious parties will have to shun this impression if they want to perform any better in next elections,” he added.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2018

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