Amid calls for a delay due to rising Covid-19 cases and a ban on one of the participating parties — the now proscribed Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) — the by-election for the NA-249 constituency in Karachi is set to take place on Thursday.
The seat fell vacant following the resignation of PTI leader Faisal Vawda from his seat in the National Assembly for his seat in the Senate, creating the latest arena for the country’s political players to compete over.
All major political parties have their eyes set on the Karachi constituency, having fielded their candidates for another seat in the parliament.
The winning candidate will become the representative of an area in the metropolis that is home to an ethnically diverse population deprived of the very basic facilities such as water.
Vawda resigned from his seat in the lower house of parliament on March 3 and submitted the same to the Islamabad High Court (IHC) during a hearing of a petition seeking the PTI leader’s disqualification from the National Assembly since he was a dual nationality holder at the time of filing his nomination papers for the 2018 general elections.
Before the resignation was submitted to the court, he cast his vote in the Senate election.
2018 general elections
Ahead of the 2018 general elections, NA-249 was newly carved out due to which large pockets of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) support base were lost, creating an opportunity for other political parties.
Vawda emerged as the front-runner for NA-249, winning the seat with 35,349 votes and defeating PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif by just 723 votes.
TLP candidate Abid Hussain received the third largest share of votes followed by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) and PPP Parliamentarians.
Read: The Barelvi vote
An ethnically diverse constituency
Karachi’s NA-249 constituency is among the seats where Sindh borders Balochistan and includes areas in both the Baldia and Mominabad sub-divisions.
The constituency comprises Abidabad, Islam Nagar, Gulshan-e-Ghazi, Dehli Colony, Kumhar Wara, Gujrat Colony, Turk Colony, Jam Nagar, Rasheedabad, Hussani Nagar, Anjaam Colony, Junagarh Muhallah, Kokan Colony, Afridi Colony, Ghous Nagar, Muslim Mujahid Colony, Madina Colony, Saeedabad, New Abadi, New Saeedabad, Qaim Khani colony and Ittehad Town from District Keamari and Islam Nagar, Khyber Colony and Mujahid Colony of Mominabad from District West.
Dr Noman Ahmed, an independent researcher on urban planning, said the constituency is home to an ethnically diverse population. It includes Punjabi residents as well as an Urdu-speaking community that would have relocated to other areas if social mobility was better.
Additionally, it is home to a Pakhtun and Hindko population, which he explained grew very fast as in these communities, individuals came to the area for economic assistance and settled with other family members. He added that there were also Christian colonies in the area, which consist of a mobilised community with strong social networks that assist one another. According to Dr Ahmed, the political clout of the Christian community is limited as a minority community but they have strong social organisation.
Dr Ahmed explained that the areas were not considered to be high priority and therefore have not seen any development on a massive scale. He said that the single main issue in the areas covered by the constituency was the lack of water supply.
The researcher said that although some repair work was done in the last year, there was currently no solution for the water supply and citizens received water through tankers. He added that in field work carried out, it was found that with the exception of a few areas, there was a big water crisis.
“[The] population’s demand is for water,” he said.
The constituency comprises both planned and unplanned areas. The district is also far from the city centre as a result of which the water supply to it is weak. Dr Ahmed said that water rarely comes to the area through the main lines, sometimes just once a week.
Additionally, he said that punctures and illegal supplies have been created out of pipelines and this entire situation results in the lack of access to water by the average person who then needs to purchase water through tankers.
In addition to the issue of water supply, Dr Ahmed said that while in certain areas, roads were better, in others, the access to roads was so poor that residents were unable to meet their relatives.
“The situation has been like this for a while,” the researcher said, adding that in Saeedabad some development work had been done for the roads and under former mayor Mustafa Kamal, some development work had been undertaken.
He added that in some areas of the constituency, both crime rates and poverty rates were also high.
The researcher said that as the by-polls were taking place during Ramazan, the voter turnout may be low.
The constituency has 339,591 registered voters — 137,935 female voters and 201,656 male voters — for Thursday’s polls.
Major parties join race
According to the Form-33 issued by the ECP, 30 candidates are set to contest in the NA-249 by-election.
- Mustafa Kamal — Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP)
- Miftah Ismail — PML-N
- Qadir Khan Mandokhail — PPP Parliamentarians
- Amjad Iqbal Afridi — PTI
- Hafiz Muhammad Mursaleen— MQM-P
- Nazeer Ahmed — TLP
- Hazrat Umer — Pakistan Muslim Alliance
- Khalid Siddiqi — Pasban Pakistan
- Rehmatullah Khan — Aam Loeg Ittehad
- Muhammad Adil — Pakistan Rah-e-Haq Party
- Muhammad Wali — Pakistan Falah Party
- 18 independent candidates
Mustafa Kamal — PSP
PSP chairman Mustafa Kamal is standing as his party’s candidate from NA-249.
The former mayor belonged to the MQM, before he suddenly left the country in August 2013. He returned in 2016 and formed the PSP.
In the 2018 election, Dr Fouzia Hameed who had contested from NA-249 on behalf of the PSP had secured just 1,617 votes.
Ahead of the by-polls, which he is contesting himself this time, the PSP chief said that water was a big problem for the residents of areas lying within the NA-249 constituency.
“I know this area from before. I did a lot of work here [and] I want to revive it,” he told Dawn.com, adding that one of the solutions to the water crisis was to remove the illegal connections and hydrants that have been connected.
Kamal said that other candidates did not know the problems of the people. However, he did and if elected, he would be able to represent them in the parliament and speak up for them.
“We know the problems [of the area] and the solutions as well,” he said.
Miftah Ismail — PML-N
PML-N’s hopeful for the by-election is former finance minister Miftah Ismail. In the 2018 general elections, Ismail contested from the NA-244 constituency in Karachi East-III, where he lost to PTI leader and Maritime Affairs Minister Ali Zaidi.
Speaking to Dawn.com, Ismail explained the two main focus points of his election campaign for NA-249. The former finance minister said the first issue was one that the entire population of Pakistan was grappling with —the problem of rising prices particularly in prices of food items such as wheat, sugar and ghee.
In the NA-249 constituency itself, he said the main issue was the lack of water.
“PPP has shown negligence for 13 years [...] PTI has done no work in the past three years,” he said, adding that the constituency had been neglected by both the parties.
The PML-N leader questioned why water could not be provided to the residents of this constituency if it was being provided to other parts of the city. He said that some of the poorest people in Karachi were residents of the district and were being charged an additional tax for water.
“No matter what happens, I’ll get them water in the next two years,” said Ismail, emphasising that his main focus as the NA-249 hopeful was to solve the water crisis in the area.
Addressing a press conference after a party meeting attended by all senior party leaders, PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz had on March 7 revealed that the party leaders had agreed with a consensus to field Ismail as their candidate for NA-249.
Smokers’ Corner: Can Miftah Win From Karachi?
On April 7, the Awami National Party (ANP) withdrew the candidacy of its hopeful Haji Aurangzeb Khan Buneri in support of the PML-N candidate.
This move came just a day after the ANP parted ways with the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) — an anti-government alliance of opposition parties — following an issuance of a show-cause notice to it from PDM secretary general and PML-N vice president Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
The next day, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) candidate Maulana Umar Sadiq also withdrew his candidacy in favour of Ismail.
Qadir Khan Mandokhail — PPP
The PML-N had also sought the support of the PPP. However, the ruling party from Sindh fielded its own candidate for the race.
The PPP Parliamentarians once again gave the ticket to Advocate Qadir Khan Mandokhail, who contested the 2018 election from NA-249 on a PPP ticket, gathering just 7,236 votes.
The PPP Parliamentarians hopeful said that prior to the 2018 election, his political arena was the NA-240 constituency, however, 15 days before the elections, PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had sent him to the NA-249 constituency.
Speaking to Dawn.com, Mandokhail said the difference now in comparison to the 2018 election was that he had worked in the district and had helped people in the area.
“People know that I was with them,” he said, adding that he had even gone and assisted the people during the coronavirus related lockdown.
“I was amongst the people and provided them help and the candidates that won and lost were nowhere,” Mandokhail said, claiming that locals had forgotten the names of the other candidates.
Mandokhail said that the main problem facing residents of NA-249 was the lack of infrastructure in the area, adding that the fundamental problem was the absence of sewerage lines and a water shortage.
The PPP candidate said that while people question what the PPP government has done in its years as the provincial government, they are not the local representatives of the area, adding that despite this, his party had worked for NA-249.
Mandokhail also questioned the lack of work done by MQM in the constituency as well as that of the MPAs, MNAs and nazims from the area.
Amjad Iqbal Afridi — PTI
The incumbent PTI has fielded Amjad Iqbal Afridi to contest the by-election.
“I am a local of the area. I have grown up in these problems,” said Afridi, while speaking to Dawn.com. “These are my problems.”
The ruling party’s candidate said the main problem facing residents in the area was the water shortage.
“There is no water,” he expressed.
Afridi said in the past two and a half years, PTI had delivered in the area as compared to the past 22 years, during which he claimed, the provincial government had not done anything.
According to Geo, PTI MPA Malik Shahzad Awan had resigned from the party when he was not given the ticket for the NA-249 seat.
Federal Minister Zaidi on March 26 tweeted that 18 PTI members had applied for the NA-249 ticket. He said that the parliamentary board had deliberated for “long hours”.
After considering all points of view, the party's senior leadership had collectively decided that the “youthful, passionate local resident” Afridi would be the its candidate against the “imported and NAB tainted PDM candidate,” he said.
Zaidi added that the entire party including Awan were standing by the decision.
Nazeer Ahmed Kamalvi — Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP)
The participation of the proscribed TLP in the upcoming by-polls became unclear after the federal government formally banned the party on April 15. TLP supporters staged three days of violent protests across the country after the arrest of their leader.
Earlier an ECP official said that after any organisation is banned, “there are certain procedures which need to be followed”. With regards to the NA-249 election, he had said that electoral laws show some flexibility which “hopefully” would not delay the polls.
Speaking to Dawn.com, District Returning Officer Syed Nadeem Haider confirmed that the TLP was listed on the ballot papers for the by-polls.
The proscribed TLP’s candidate for the upcoming polls Nazeer Ahmed Kamalvi said that if elected to the National Assembly seat, he would give people in the area their rights and solve their problems. He said that residents face an array of problems, ranging from water shortage, roads in poor conditions to sewerage issues.
“Work will be done but it will take time,” said Kamalvi, adding that he would not make false promises.
The organisation's candidate added that their offices had been closed and their campaign had been halted.
Hafiz Muhammad Mursaleen — MQM-P
MQM-P gave its ticket for the NA-249 seat to Hafiz Muhammad Mursaleen. In the 2018 election, Mursaleen stood as an independent candidate from the constituency.
Speaking to Dawn.com, Mursaleen said that he has been involved in the NA-249 constituency for the past 15 years.
“Water is the biggest problem [...] people are desperate for every single droplet of water,” he said.
The MQM-P candidate said that there were other issues in the area such as broken roads and sewerage issues but the main issue remained that of water.
Mursaleen explained that illegal water connections were set up and the water from the area was being sold elsewhere. He said that as their elected representative, he would remove the illegal water connections so that everyone could receive their fair share.
Senior MQM-leader and former Karachi mayor Wasim Akhtar said that given it is a by-election, particularly in the month of Ramazan, voter turnout is likely to be low.
“We are trying hard to get this seat,” said Akhtar, alleging that the 2018 election had been manipulated by the ruling PTI. He said that in comparison to other parties contesting in the by-polls, the MQM-P has a local network.
“PTI’s performance is before everyone, PML-N is in trouble and TLP’s issues are in front of you,” the MQM-P leader said, adding that this time his party had chosen a candidate who was born and raised in Baldia.
According to Akhtar, no government has resolved the water issue in the area where water is stolen and hydrants are set up.
He said that the issue could only be resolved if the PPP, as the ruling party in Sindh, provided water to the area.
“PPP has all the authority and the funds and only if they want, they can give water to this area. They are not interested in all of Sindh, so forget Karachi,” he said.
Sana Ali is a journalist based in Karachi.