KARACHI: A tough contest is expected among candidates of major political parties contesting the by-election in a water-starved Karachi National Assembly constituency, NA-249, polling for which is going to be held on Thursday (tomorrow).

NA-249, Karachi West II, was created in 2018 by amalgamating areas that previously fell in two NA constituencies (NA-239 and NA-240) during three general elections held from 2002 to 2013.

Before the creation of this constituency, NA-240 was considered to be a stronghold of the then Altaf Hussain-led Muttahida Qaumi Movement as an overwhelming majority of Urdu-speaking voters lived there. In the delimitation for the 2018 election, areas from old NA-239 and NA-240, said to be dominated by people of other ethnic backgrounds, were merged to form the NA-249 constituency.

It now comprises areas including Mohajir Camp, Baldia Town, Rasheedabad, Saeedabad, Ittehad Town, Qaimkhani Colony, Gulshan-i-Bihar with parts of Mominabad, Frontier Colony and Orangi Town. Areas like Pak Colony, which were previously part of the NA-240 constituency, were excluded from the new NA-249 constituency in the 2018 delimitation.

From low-income to affluent and from progressive minds to very religious and conservatives, people belonging to almost all ethnicities including Pakhtuns, Punjabis, Mohajir, Hazarawal, Baloch, Sindhi, etc have been living in the constituency for decades.

In the 2018 general election, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Faisal Vawda had defeated former Punjab chief minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president Shehbaz Sharif with a narrow margin. Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) was in third position followed by MQM-Pakistan and Pakistan Peoples Party candidates, respectively. The seat fell vacant in March 2021 after Mr Vawda resigned.

Hustle and bustle

Unlike many other constituencies in Karachi, it is next to impossible to predict a clear winner of the by-election.

Prominent candidates in the run are PML-N’s Miftah Ismail, Pak Sarzameen Party chairman Syed Mustafa Kamal, PTI’s Amjad Afridi, PPP’s Qadir Khan Mandokhail, MQM-P’s Mohammad Mursaleen and TLP’s Mufti Nazeer Ahmed Kamalvi.

Until last week, Mr Ismail of the PML-N was considered as the hot favourite candidate but his election campaign suffered a blow after Maryam Nawaz cancelled her visit to Karachi due to the rise in coronavirus cases.

During a recent visit to the constituency, Dawn met area people as well as supporters and representatives of the contesting parties at their central election offices and it emerged that every party was sure about a tough contest on Thursday.

At the PPP’s election camp, a young district office-bearer said that the people of the constituency knew that only the Sindh government could solve their problems, bring water through pipelines and ensure its equitable distribution.

“Miftah Ismail said he would work with the Sindh government to resolve the issue of water ... why should people choose him over the PPP when he himself depends on the Sindh government to solve the most important problem of the area?” he said.

At the PTI camp, some supporters said Mr Ismail of the PML-N was an “outsider” and his interest in the locality was just until elections. They said that the people of the constituency irrespective of their ethnicity would vote for Imran Khan on the polling day.

At the PML-N election office, senior party leader Saleem Zia was sitting alone when Dawn asked him about his party’s prospects. “We will win ... the situation is good,” he said.

PML-N workers were then very excited to welcome Maryam Nawaz, who was supposed to come to Karachi to lead the election campaign.

“Maryam’s presence would be enough for our victory,” said a PML-N worker. Little did he know that his leader would cancel her visit to Karachi at the eleventh hour and rely on releasing a simple video statement for voters.

PSP chairman Mustafa Kamal chose to contest the by-election himself and he ran an election campaign that even his opponents described as impressive.

“PSP would give tough time to all other candidates as Mustafa Kamal can get votes from the Urdu-speaking community as well as from Pakhtun, Hazarawal and Punjabis,” said a PML-N worker while predicting a comfortable victory for Miftah Ismail.

At the MQM-P’s election office, coordination committee member Gulfraz Khattak said over 130,000 voters in the constituency were Urdu-speaking and if even half of them came out of their home on polling day no one would stop the victory of the party’s candidate M. Mursaleen.

But close to Mursaleen’s home, the MQM-P and PSP both organised corner meetings at a distance of a few hundred yards last week.

This reporter visited both the events and saw a number of people in Mr Kamal’s meeting and only a handful at the MQM-P’s venue.

“We are working hard and we are hopeful that not only Mohajirs but other people will vote for us as only Mustafa Kamal can solve their problems,” PSP president Anis Kaimkhani told Dawn at the party’s central election office.

There was a consensus among almost all parties that the recent episode of violent protests in the area had diminished the chances of the TLP since people of NA-249 constituency were affected the most by their protest.

Rangers’ deployment

According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, there are 339,591 voters in the NA-249 constituency — 201,656 male and 137,935 female voters.

A total of 276 polling stations have been set up for the April 29 by-election and all of them declared ‘sensitive’. Rangers would be deployed outside all the polling stations in the constituency from April 28 to April 30.

The ECP also authorised the Rangers to use magisterial powers for the entire duration of their deployment. The same magisterial powers were also granted to the district returning officer, returning officer and all presiding officers.

Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2021

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