Analysis: Political activities gather steam in Larkana after announcement of by-polls schedule

Updated September 13, 2019

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Political activities in the hometown of slain Pakistan Peoples Party leader Benazir Bhutto have started gathering steam in the wake of Election Commission of Pakis­tan’s (ECP) announcement about by-elections on PS-11. — AFP/File
Political activities in the hometown of slain Pakistan Peoples Party leader Benazir Bhutto have started gathering steam in the wake of Election Commission of Pakis­tan’s (ECP) announcement about by-elections on PS-11. — AFP/File

LARKANA: Political activities in the hometown of slain Pakistan Peoples Party leader Benazir Bhutto have started gathering steam in the wake of Election Commission of Pakis­tan’s (ECP) announcement about by-elections on PS-11.

The provincial assembly seat had fallen vacant after the Supreme Court de-seated Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) MPA Moazzam Ali Khan Abbasi while the ECP has fixed Oct 17 for the by-election of PS-11 and already nominated returning officers.

Moazzam Abbasi had won PS-11 after defeating Nida Khuhro, daughter of PPP’s seasoned politician and president of Sindh PPP Nisar Ahmed Khuhro when Mr Khuhro was disqualified from contesting elections after Mr Abbasi challenged his papers before ECP.

Mr Abbasi enjoyed the support of GDA being led by Pakistan Muslim League-Functional head Pir Pagara and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F). The Abbasi who had deserted PPP and Khuhros were equally experienced in politics but Nida Khuhro had relatively little exposure to parliamentary politics.

Eventually, ECP declared Moazzam Abbasi of GDA as winner in its notification issued on August 10, 2018.

He had secured 32,206 votes while Ms Khuhro had obtained 21,825 votes. She did not allow Abbasi to savour his win and challenged his victory in election tribunal within days but it upheld Abbasi’s victory. Ms Khuhro later took her case to Supreme Court.

The SC passed the verdict in her case on Aug 22 wherein it de-seated MPA Abbasi and asked ECP to go for by-election on PS-11.

Subsequently, the ECP announced holding by-election on Oct 17.

The Larkana Awami Ittehad (LAI) led by former MPA Haji Munawwar Ali Abbasi decided in a meeting to field Moazzam Abbasi again as its candidate in by-election. PTI’s former Sindh president Amir Bakhsh Bhutto had also extended support to Abbasi in the meeting, said sources.

Maulana Rashid Mehmood Soomro, general secretary of JUI-F Sindh and his brother Nasir Mehmood Soomro, district emir of JUI-F Larkana, had reportedly agreed to support Abbasi in the by-election after prolonged discussion with Moazzam Abbasi at Kot Daryab on Sept 8.

Rashid Mehmood Soomro confirmed to Dawn on Wednesday his meetings with Abbasi even on Sept 10 to deliberate on formulating a strategy to contest against PPP’s candidate. Abbasi also confirmed holding meeting with JUI-F’s provincial and district leadership to muster their support.

The day after the meeting between Abbasi and JUI-F’s Rashid Soomro, Nisar Khuhro along with PPP’s MNA Khursheed Junejo had a detailed meeting with JUI-F’s Soomro brothers at their madressah and reports said they had discussed possible coordination between PPP and JUI-F in by-elections.

The eleventh hour decision of party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari of dissolving the district and city bodies of PPP Larkana on Aug 30 had polarised opinion amongst political analysts. Some termed it ‘ill-timed’ and others called it a wise move.

PPP misstep?

But certain political circles see it as counterproductive. “When you need strong organisation in by-election what is the need of abruptly dissolving the already functioning bodies in Larkana where the party had lost its key seat to GDA’s candidate in the last election,” an observer said.

Instead of holding urgent elections PPP Sindh president Khuhro had formed district and city coordination committees which MNA Junejo and Aftab Nek Mohammad Bhutto would lead, respectively.

Former district and city presidents Abdul Fatah Bhutto and Nooruddin Abro were taken on the committees as members. Though there are unconfirmed reports of discontentment among former presidents but they have accepted the party’s decision and reportedly agreed to stand by the decision.

“We are not even informed about our role in the coordination committees and what will be the task to accomplish,” says a member of the committee on condition of anonymity.

A cursory look at last election’s results showed that the constituency’s composition is somehow a source of concern for PPP’s candidate as it consists of 15 union councils of Larkana Municipal Corporation. Of the 15, four were swept by Larkana Awami Ittehad (LAI) while one went to JUI-F and both GDA and JUI-F had jointly fielded Abbasi as their candidate on this seat.

“As a matter of fact, elections are always unpredictable,” said Abbasi and claimed sweeping six union councils in last elections and losing on margins in four union councils.

He said that it required hard work to overcome deficiencies and expressed optimism that he would be able to muster JUI-F’s support as his family had good relations with the party’s local leadership.

PPP was also trying to gain their support but it all demanded untiring efforts to ensure win, he said.

Political observers said the trend of voting always tilted towards sitting government.

Therefore, it might prove relatively easy for PPP’s candidate whether it is Nisar Khuhro or Jamil Soomro, political secretary of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.

PPP would like to field a strong candidate to recapture the seat for which Nisar Khuhro, Jamil Soomro, Tariq Anwar Siyal who is brother of Sindh minister Sohail Anwar Siyal, former MNA Shahid Bhutto, former mayor of Larkana Nazeer Ahmed Shaikh and Safdar Mithani had applied. They are trying to get ticket for the seat but it is yet to be seen who clinches it.

Bilawal is expected to arrive here and address a workers’ convention in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh Bhutto on Sept 15. During his stay he would finalise the name of the candidate for PS-11 after consultations, said party sources.

According to schedule announced by the ECP, nomination papers for the seat will be received from Sept 13 to 15 while scrutiny will be held on Sept 19. Sept 28 will be the last date for withdrawing the candidature.

The candidates will get a month and a few days more for electioneering.

Unfortunately for the PPP, with the party’s district and city bodies dissolved at the eleventh hour, it has been left to newly formed coordination committees to handle the tough election.

It might cause difficulties for PPP in the long run, said political observers.

It is common perception here that if PPP fielded Nisar Khuhro he will be able to give a tough time to Abbasi but any other candidate except him will prove easy prey for GDA’s nominee.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2019