WHILE their opponents do not see the unification of different factions of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement sans Altaf Hussain as a political threat, those who once formed the upper echelons of the unified MQM predict the merger would lead to a power struggle. As a result, they believe, the party would continue to use the establishment as a crutch to sort out its internal differences.

As the union took shape on Thursday evening, Dawn approached several leaders of the various factions for insights on the merger, its challenges and the prospects of a unified MQM without Altaf Hussain in the upcoming general elections. While everyone predicts a bumpy ride ahead, the gist of the conversation suggests the merger would not be reversed as long as the establishment desires it should stay intact.

“This is a caesarean section and the birth is premature. For survival, the infant must be kept under constant medical care and that care has to be provided by the powers that have performed the surgery,” sums up a senior former MQM leader.

On the face of it, the unification is good news for all MQM supporters who thought their party had lost the 2018 elections on around half a dozen National Assembly seats in the metropolis because of a split in the vote bank.

The powers behind the merger also think the same, and they may not be completely wrong.

In the 2018 general elections, MQM-P bagged four of the 21 NA seats in Karachi, while Pak Sarzameen Party got none. Election data, however, suggests candidates that from the MQM-P and PSP combined got more votes than those obtained by the winning PTI candidates on at least five NA seats.

The trend continued in the NA-249 by-election held in April 2021, in which the combined votes of MQM-P and PSP candidates were more than the number secured by PPP’s Qadir Khan Mandokhel.

The PPP candidate won with 15,656 votes, whereas the combined votes of the MQM-P and PSP totaled 15,735. But the result of the NA-240 by-election in October 2022 tells a different tale.

So, apparently, the powers that be did simple arithmetic and decided that instead of a fragmented MQM, they now need a potent party that can present an electoral challenge to its nemesis, Imran Khan’s PTI, in Karachi. The ex-premier has already described the merger attempt of MQM factions as political engineering.

“I see many problems, infighting and bitterness when it comes to choose new office-bearers for either the coordination committee or its subordinate bodies, including those in towns and UCs,” says a senior MQM-P leader on condition of anonymity.

“There would be serious issues when party tickets will be distributed among candidates for the general elections. The transition will not be easy without the help of our friends.”

“There will be obstacles but failure is not an option,” opines former MQM coordination committee deputy convener Nasir Jamal. “This merger should survive for which all sides must have to work hard.”

Former Sindh minister Raza Haroon, who was a member of the unified MQM’s coordination committee until he joined PSP as its first secretary general in 2016, says the future depends on the intentions of each and every group that has agreed to the merger.

“The merger appears to be more out of fear — continuous reduction in vote bank, especially in Mohajir-dominated constituencies, the [MQM] London pressure and [its election] boycott appeals and a disillusioned leadership that has no narrative for the city,” he says.

Mr Haroon, who parted ways with PSP after the 2018 elections, goes on to say the survival of the merger will largely depend “on the future face of the party”, a strong organisation and an effective strategy to propagate party line via modern communication tools.

“So yes, the merger raises the hopes of Karachiites but the ability of the current leadership has unfortunately already been tried, tested and rejected,” he says.

An insider says a majority of MQM-P supporters and workers are more than willing to embrace the leadership of breakaway factions, but some members of the coordination committee seem to be wary of the return of PSP chairman Syed Mustafa Kamal, fearing that he will eventually steal all their thunder.

Then, there are within the MQM-P who are still sympathetic to Altaf Hussain, but do not want to invite the wrath of the establishment by disclosing their leanings.

Some also fear that the PSP leadership enjoys a comparatively good relationship with the establishment and they might try to get the powers that be involved in all contentious decisions.

Giving an example, they say that at a recent meeting of MQM-P coordination committee at Governor House, at least three members spoke against the merger plan with specific reference to the return of PSP leaders. A few days later, they claim, the naysayers along with other leaders were summoned and recalled (in a friendly way) cases against them that were pending trial before different courts.

“The message was loud and clear that no opposition [to merger] is acceptable,” says an insider privy to these developments.

When asked whether this merger would improve chances of MQM-P’s electoral success, Mr Haroon says at the moment Imran Khan’s popularity is way ahead of anyone else, while Jamaat-i-Islami’s Hafiz Naeemur Rehman has become a household name in Karachi. Only if it is able to attract the youth and women does the party stand any chance of winning any seats in the urban centres of Sindh, he says.

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2023

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