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KARACHI, May 8: After boycotting the 2008 elections, the Jamaat-i-Islami has now jumped into the electoral fray passionately hoping that they are here to offer surprises to detractors and ‘bury the longstanding status quo’ – a view to which most critics do not subscribe.

The JI has fielded 12 candidates on National Assembly seats and 22 on 42 of Karachi’s provincial assembly seats.

“We are here to offer surprises to ensure that Karachi is going to be a bastion of peace and prosperity in future,” said Dr Mairajul Huda Siddiqui, the JI Sindh chief contesting NA-245, while speaking to Dawn.

The JI has no illustrious past achievements to show to its detractors vis-à-vis electoral mandate it has been getting since the 1970 elections in Karachi.

It won two NA seats on its own in 1970 and three in 1977 when it was part of the nine-party Pakistan National Alliance. Its candidates contested as independents in Gen Ziaul Haq’s infamous 1985 party-less elections, and three of them returned to the National Assembly.

The JI was part of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad in 1988 and 1990, but it failed to win even a single seat in Karachi mainly because of the immense popularity of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, then the Mohajir Qaumi Movement, contesting as the Haq Parast Group, and the Pakistan Peoples Party.

It won a single NA seat from the platform of the Pakistan Islamic Front despite the MQM’s boycott in 1993 and in 1997 it also boycotted the vote.

Jamaat’s Laeeq Khan, Abdul Sattar Afghani, Mohammad Hussain Mehnati and Asadullah Bhutto won on NA-241, NA-250, NA-252 and NA-253 in 2002 as candidates of the six-party religious alliance Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal.

The record shows that the party won two seats on its own insignia only in 1970. Since then, it fielded its candidates as independents or the party has been a member of some alliances, which sometimes benefited it with some seats. Its best record was in 2002 when its candidates fared well thanks to the religious sentiments that swept the country because of the US-led coalition’s ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan and accumulation of religion-based votes towards the MMA.

However, Mr Siddiqui is highly hopeful that his party is going to win at least seven NA and 13 provincial assembly seats.

“The results will be entirely different and pleasing for the people of Karachi if fair and free elections are held. We expect to win seven to eight NA and 13 to 14 PS seats if the elections are free of rigging and coercion,” he said.

Though the JI is relying on its own — instead of its past marriages with other parties — to contest elections for the first time since 1970, it is a part of an understanding among 10 political parties with which it has made crucial seat adjustments at certain vital constituencies.

This time, the constituencies it is concentrating on the most are NA-245, NA-250, NA-252 and NA-253. Except for NA-245 it had won all the three in 2002, yet they are still considered to be the MQM’s strongholds.

Former Karachi nazim Niamatullah Khan, Karachi JI amir Mohammad Hussain Mehnati, and former Sindh JI amir Asadullah Bhutto are contesting these constituencies.

“We have made very significant seat adjustments with the PML-N, Functional League and several other parties on certain constituencies, which makes it now difficult for the MQM to win them easily,” said Mr Siddiqui.

He said the fear factor because of poor law and order situation in the city could affect the voters’ turnout, which might harm the JI’s cause.

“We want more people to cast their votes, which will help us win and bring peace to the city.”

Analysts said the MQM was still strong in most of its strongholds, but it would be resiliently challenged by the JI and the PPP on some constituencies.

“The MQM will face the PPP’s challenge on NA-249 and the JI’s challenge on NA-250 and NA-252. The Jamaat has entered the arena with craft and energy and would certainly cause the MQM to worry at some places in Karachi,” said Dr Jaffar Ahmed, a professor at the Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi.