Karachi takes leap in the dark to unmask shrouded destiny

For the first time in recent polls history, the cultural melting pot of the country appears indecisive.
Published February 8, 2024

WHILE more than nine million people of Pakistan’s commercial hub are poised to exercise their right to vote in the general elections being held today, Karachi is set observe the most unpredictable polls of its history.

Uncertainty prevails as the past favourites like Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf are facing serious organisational and political challenges, the Jamaat-i-Islami aspiring to regain its lost city mandate on the back of recent popularity in the urban centre and the PPP is hoping to become the majority party capitalising on its local government victory in the metropolis and 15-year rule in the province.

Karachiites will elect their representatives from 575 candidates contesting on 22 National Assembly seats and 1,406 candidates vying for 47 Sindh Assembly seats.

For the first time in recent polls history, the cultural melting pot of the country appears indecisive.

Polling being held today on city’s 22 NA, 47 PA seats

Tough and unclear to predict for analysts and experts, what makes Karachi different from others is the game-changing mandate the city possesses with 22 NA seats and 47 in the Sindh Assembly which can send any political party to assemblies to represent the people both in the Centre and the province and reject others.

Though hundreds are in the race, key contenders are three major parties, MQM-P, JI and PPP with hundreds of PTI-backed independent candidates who have lost their electoral symbol, but nothing on ground in terms of popularity among the people.

Instead, for many, the party has gained more in terms of public support after it came on the radar screen after the May 9 incidents.

The prevailing uncertainty prevents analysts, independent observers and research bodies to predict anything with certitude about Karachi elections. However, they are almost certain about one thing about the city’s electoral battle — that is upsets and surprises.

Journalist and analyst Faisal Hussain says the Feb 8 polls have already become disputed considering the level playing field provided to a ‘popular party’ for election campaigning.

“I call them controversial in the sense that the party which enjoys a considerable public support is not allowed to run [an effective] election campaign,” he says. “Depriving PTI from its electoral symbol is another thing to count in this regard. This has put PTI in a very challenging situation. Making voters aware of their independent candidates and then bring them to polling stations to cast vote will be a tough task for the party.”

What has changed over the years, for Mr Hussain, is the trend of popularity of political parties in Karachi. The city has seen a rise of the JI led by its energetic leader Hafiz Naeemur Rahman who’s seen as ‘saviour’ by many following his years long struggle on issues faced by the people of the metropolis.

“Hafiz Naeem has given a new shape to the JI in Karachi,” he says.

“Whatever the surveys and researches or reviews we have seen before the elections, they definitely give PTI an edge in terms of popularity, but JI has also emerged as a strong contender and it’s firming its ground with each passing day. And in this situation, if any blue-eyed party is preferred to win the elections through some ‘management’, it’s only Jamaat which can put up resistance,” said Mr Hussain.

He believes that in terms of popularity, PTI still enjoys leading position in Karachi followed by JI and then there are other contesting parties.

However, he warns the situation can be interesting on the day of polling considering the recent development after Altaf Hussain-led Muttahida Qaumi Movement, commonly called MQM-London, has announced names of its ‘Wafa Parast’ independent candidates on Karachi seats. Although the MQM-P is in tight spot after the London-based faction comes in picture, it’s eyeing 15 plus seats in Karachi and two in Hyderabad.

Analysts believe the latest announcement has brought another challenge for the party as it is widely believed that the division of Urdu speaking vote bank between MQM-P and MQM-L might help the PPP and the Jamaat-i-Islami in several constituencies of Karachi.

The PPP on the other hand sounds very hopeful mainly on the basis of results of local government elections where it won majority and led to install its mayor in Karachi.

However, the controversial election of Karachi mayor still haunts the party whenever the debate emerges about the free and fair electoral process.

“I think this time, in Karachi we can witness a mix-plate in these elections,” says Faizullah Khan, a journalist covering elections and campaigns of different political parties.

“The PPP can win its traditional strongholds in the city and its outskirts. Despite popularity, the PTI faces serious challenges due to absence of electoral symbol as their voters are still confused. It will benefit their rivals. The Jamaat is also expected to emerge as electoral choice for Karachiites after years. For MQM-P, they face challenges within.”

First there was an apprehension that MQM-L would announce boycott which would ultimately affect MQM-P voters, he says. After the announcement of candidates from the London-based leadership, the threat isn’t over and now it’s believed that it will divide the Urdu speaking vote bank between two groups of the party benefitting none of them, he adds.

In a public service message, the Election Commission of Pakistan has made it clear that no person will be allowed to cast his vote at the polling station without original CNIC. Expired original CNIC, it says, is acceptable, but other documents, including the copy of CNIC will not be acceptable.

Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2024