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Smokers’ Corner: Tale of two cities

July 01, 2012


By studying the electoral history of Karachi and Lahore, one can largely ascertain the general political and ideological mood of Pakistan's urban bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie.

In 1970 when the country held its very first direct elections, its polity had split into two distinct poles: one was trying to recreate Pakistan as a democratic-socialist entity and the other determined to safeguard the country's traditional ruling elite.

In the 1970 election, the left-liberal Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) won the majority of seats in West Pakistan, whereas the Bengali nationalist party, the Awami League (AL), swept the election in the former East Pakistan.

In Lahore election results clearly reflected the signs of the time in which people overwhelmingly voted for change. All eight National Assembly (NA) seats were won by the PPP in Lahore where pro-establishment and religious parties were heavily defeated.

However the 1970 NA election in Karachi saw Karachiites going against the PPP and AL tide by largely voting for religious parties.

Seven NA seats were up for grabs in Karachi, out of which only two went to the PPP.

The religious parties bagged four seats, with JUP and JI winning two seats each whereas one seat went to an independent candidate.

Karachi was (as it still is) one of the most pluralistic cities of the country, dominated by an Urdu-speaking (Mohajir) majority.

The Mohajirs largely voted for religious parties in 1970 mainly due to the fact that they had arrived as refugees (from India) and were not considered 'sons of the soil.'

And since only the religious parties had directly linked Pakistani nationalism with Islam (thus transcending the need to be tied to an ethnic base or culture to be called people of the soil), the majority of the Mohajirs counterbalanced their social liberalism with political conservatism and voted for JI and JUP.

Seven years later, the 1977 election was marred by controversy and protest leading to the imposition of Pakistan's third (but by far the longest and the most violent) military regime, that of General Ziaul Haq.

In a bid to erode the influence of mainstream political patties and to also consolidate the patronage his regime was giving to the formation of a new urban class of industrialists, traders and shop-keepers (mainly in the Punjab), Zia held the 1985 election on a party-less basis.

However, after his assassination in 1988, the country returned to the normal party-based democratic process.

In the 1988 election, the majority of the seats were won by the PPP followed by the nine-party right-wing alliance, the Islami Jamhoori Ittihad (IJI).

This time Lahore had nine NA seats and Karachi 13. Out of the nine seats in Lahore, the PPP won six; whereas the IJI won two and one seat was won by a moderate right-wing alliance. This would be the PPP's last hurrah in Lahore.

Karachi saw a landslide victory for the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM), a secular Mohajir nationalist party that completely wiped out the hold JUP and JI once enjoyed in Karachi.

MQM won 11 out of the 13 NA seats in Karachi, whereas the remaining two went to the PPP.

When the Zia loyalist, President Ishaq Khan, dismissed the PPP regime in 1990 (on 'corruption' charges) and held new elections, most analysts claimed that the elections were largely fixed.

IJI emerged as the majority party but was a fractured entity by the time its government was dismissed as well on the same charges by Ishaq.

A relatively fairer election was held in 1993 in which the PPP again emerged as the majority party.

Punjab's political and economic dynamics had been changing under Zia, but the impact became more visible during the 1993 election.

Out of the nine NA seats in Lahore in 1993, PML-N won eight. The PPP which had swept Lahore in 1970 and bagging the highest number of seats in 1988 could only win one in 1993.

PML-N had mixed an elitist version of Punjabi nationalism and fortified it with an appeal to the growing conservatism and Islamist sentiments among the Punjabi bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie.

In Karachi, the MQM boycotted the NA election (as a protest against army operation). The PPP and PML-N being the main beneficiaries of the boycott.

The 1997 election held after yet another PPP regime was dismissed, saw the participation of just between 27 and 35 percent of the electorate.

The elections were swept by the PML-N, but its regime toppled in a military coup by General Musharraf in 1999.

In 2002, the Musharraf regime held elections that were won by the PML-Q. The PPP bagged the second largest number of seats. PML-N was annihilated.

PML-Q was constructed by the Musharraf government by bringing together pro-establishment PML factions as well as a number of former PML-N heavyweights.

In the 2008 election, out of 20 NA seats in Karachi, MQM won 17 while the PPP won the remaining three.

Out of the 13 NA seats in Lahore, PML-N returned with a bang by winning 11 while two were won by the PPP.

Ever since the early 1990s, the PPP’s electoral support among the urban bourgeoisie has continued to erode, but it remains intact in the villages, towns and small cities of Sindh, South Punjab and parts of Pakhtunkhwa.

MQM remains a strong electoral player in Karachi.

The electoral trends in Lahore continue to reflect central and northern Punjab’s on-going shift towards conservative parties like the PML-N. Even though this time around N’s constituency is being attracted by another right-wing player, Imran Khan’s PTI — gunning for the province’s middle-class youth who find Khan’s idea of colouring his conservatism with sweeping rhetorical chants of change rather attractive.

In the next election, Lahore is likely to witness an electoral battle between the old right (PML-N) and the new right (PTI), whereas in Karachi the MQM is set to dominate again, followed by the PPP and ANP.