THE result of Thursday’s nail-biting by-election on a Karachi National Assembly seat, NA-240, has once again exposed the fissures within Mohajir vote bank as well as Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan’s organisational weaknesses, giving rise to fears within its ranks that the party may not be able to maintain its electoral grip on the city’s local government organisations in the July 24 elections either without the blessings of Altaf Hussain or in the presence of multiple factions.

The MQM-P just managed to retain the seat by winning the by-poll with a thin margin of only 65 votes. This poor performance in the constituency that has more than half a million votes also results in calls of unity among different factions of the once unified MQM even from those who did not take part in the electoral process.

The MQM-P candidate, Abu Bakar, won the election by securing 10,683 votes against the runner-up candidate of Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), who bagged 10,618 votes. The candidates of Afaq Ahmed-led Mohajir Qaumi Movement-Haqiqi and Mustafa Kamal-led Pak Sarzameen Party got 8,383 and 4,797 votes, respectively. The turnout was mere 8.3 per cent.

While the credit (or discredit) of the low turnout in the by-election goes to the boycott call given Altaf Hussain-led MQM-London and absence of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Jamaat-i-Islami from electoral arena, election authorities could not be absolved from the blame as they fixed a weekday for polling instead of holding this vital exercise on the weekend.

‘Lack of confidence’

Background conversations with several current and former leaders and senior activists of the once unified MQM reveal that almost all of them believe that the voters in the traditional Mohajir constituency clearly expressed no confidence in all the groups because of their divisions and ugly infighting as around 92pc of the constituents did not take any interest in exercising their right of franchise and preferred to stay indoors.

“This is not only because of Altaf Hussain’s boycott call...the low turnout was also because of us...[MQM] Pakistan, PSP and Haqiqi. People rejected the division between us...it’s us who should be blamed, not London,” says a senior MQM-P activist.

“In the last six years [after the establishment-imposed a ban on Mr Hussain following his Aug 22, 2016 controversial speech], we [MQM-P, PSP and MQM-H] have given nothing to our voters except disappointment. And yesterday all of us have failed to convince Mohajir families to come out of their homes. If this is not rejection, I don’t know what else we call it,” he remarks.

During the vote count on Thursday evening when on many occasions the TLP got a lead over the MQM-P, many people, including supporters and sympathisers of different parties took to social media to express their opinion about the unfolding situation.

Tahir Mashhadi, a former MQM-P senator who has now joined PPP, tweeted: “The constituency is and always has been a Altaf Hussain stronghold. His boycott call had a effect. Less than 10 % of total votes of over 5 lac cast. ECP might declare reelection.”

Senior MQM-P leader and Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs Faisal Subzwari publicly acknowledged the division in a tweet he posted right after the victory of his party late on Thursday night.

“We got comparatively less votes [and] it’s a matter of concern for us...we are suffering from serious financial crisis as well as division,” he tweeted. “After today’s tough contest, there will be a serious effort to further engage people.”

‘More humiliation’

While Mr Subzwari’s statement regarding engagement is open for interpretation, former MQM convener and Washington-based Voice of Karachi (VOK) chief Nadeem Nusrat is clearer in his thoughts.

Commenting on the by-election, he says urban Sindh’s voters are fed up with political infighting and fragmentation among various groups. “The low turnout isn’t a surprise at all. Baldia Town [last year’s NA-249 by-poll] and Cantonment Board’s elections had already proved that voters aren’t happy with any group, whether MQM-P, MQM-H, or PSP.”

Mr Nusrat, whose advocacy group is not into electoral politics, urges all MQM factions to bury their political and personal differences, sit together, identify a permanent solution to their constituents, and contest the next election from a united platform. “The failure to do so will bring even more humiliation.”

A few feel the MQM-P should tell the powers that be that their minus-Altaf formula has failed. “It’s time we all should consider the possibility of Altaf bhai’s return [to local politics] or we can wait and see Karachi falling into the hands of religious fanatics like TLP or JI,” observes a former member of the unified MQM’s coordination committee.

“Being the bigger party, it is the responsibility of the MQM-P to initiate contact and talks with other factions. And if your ego is too big that you do not want to talk to PSP and Afaq [Ahmed], then the only option you got is to go back to Altaf Hussain. This is the way to get

success in the upcoming local government and next general elections; otherwise, everyone can see the writing on the wall,” he says.

TLP phenomenon

Many people whom Dawn spoke to believe after Khadim Rizvi’s death the support for the TLP in Karachi is on a decline.

While it was quite understandable that the MQM-P failed to muster sufficient support in the constituency because of multiple challenges, they ask who stopped the TLP from repeating its 2018 performance — it came second and bagged 30,535 votes — and why did they also fail to bring voters to polling stations.

They say in Karachi before the rise of TLP, Sunni Tehreek had enjoyed a significant vote bank of people belonging to the Barelvi school of thought. That vote coupled with traditional voters of Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP) has turned to the TLP, which can only win seats in Karachi if the Mohajir vote bank remains divided.

“If we remained divided, not only the TLP but the JI and the PPP will definitely snatch our [traditional] seats in the upcoming polls. Time is running out for all of us,” says the former coordination committee member.

Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2022

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