As Pakistan heads to the polls on July 25, the political temperature in Karachi is rising. In the country’s most populous city, there are 21 national assembly and 44 Sindh assembly constituencies up for grabs.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the main contenders in the city of over 16 million, are trying to wrest control of parliamentary seats earlier considered the bastion of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). But nowadays the previously entrenched MQM is wobbly. Infighting in the political party have rekindled the hopes of rivals, which is why both the PPP and the PTI have fielded their chairman in Karachi.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari of the PPP will be contesting from NA-246 in Karachi. He has also filled nomination papers for NA-200 in Larkana, Sindh and NA-8 in Malakand, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Meanwhile, Imran Khan from the PTI will be eyeing for a win in five constituencies – NA-243 in Karachi, NA-35 in Bannu, NA-53 in Islamabad, NA-131 in Lahore and NA-95 Mianwali.
Separately, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz had earlier hinted at fielding its president, Shehbaz Sharif, from three constituencies in the city, but a party leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Geo.tv that the PML-N leadership has only finalised NA-249 from Karachi, as it was unsure about victory.
Why is Karachi the most coveted city this election? One reason, as stated earlier, maybe the fragmentation of the MQM, which has opened up space for others. Then, “there is also a cliché that Karachi is mini-Pakistan and contains every ethnicity of the country,” explains Zarrar Khuhro, a Karachi-based journalist and political analyst, “The cliché is true, which is why every party has a vote bank in the city.” Participating in Karachi’s election will help burnish the credential that that party has a national presence, he adds.
For the PPP, NA-246 in Lyari is a safe constituency for their young chairman who will contest polls for the first time. In 2013, the party won only one national assembly seat from Karachi, from Lyari, and two among its three elected MPAs were also from Lyari.
Before the 1970s, and before the groundswell support for the PPP in Lyari, Karachi’s oldest settlement, the politics of the area was dominated by the Pakistan Muslim League, Baloch nationalists, and various religious groups. However, since then, the PPP has been sweeping the constituency in every election. Zardari’s mother, Benazir Bhutto, and father, Asif Ali Zardari, have also won from the constituency in the past.
“This time, the PPP is optimistic to win five to six NA seats from Karachi,” said a PPP leader in the city, who asked not to be named, “But for Bilawal only Lyari’s NA-246 and Malir’s NA-236 were safe enough to kick start our leader’s political journey.”
While rival PTI, the PML-N and Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), have also nominated candidates for the Lyari constituency, their campaign efforts in the area have been at best lacklustre due to the PPP’s popularity.
Over in the PTI camp, the marked constituency is NA-243, a district East’s area that consists of Gulshan-Iqbal, Gulistan-e-Jauhar and the upper-middle class neighbourhoods of Bahadurabad and Sharafabad. The constituency has been created by cobbling together areas from NA-252 and NA-253 post the delimitation. While the MQM won both of the seats in 2013, the PTI ranked second with a sizeable number of votes.
“We had earlier assessed two constituencies – NA-247 (Defence, Clifton, and Burns Road) and NA-250 (SITE) as safer bets for Imran Khan,” a PTI leader told Geo.tv. “But we also wanted to take advantage of the MQM’s inner crisis, which is why we choose NA-243.”
Running against Khan is the MQM-Pakistan’s Khawaja Izharul Hasan, the former opposition leader in the Sindh Assembly. While from the PPP, Shehla Raza, Sindh Assembly’s former deputy speaker, is also in the ring.
Even as the list of contenders grows, the MQM-P claims it is not threatened. “PTI made a bad decision to field Khan from NA-243. This area is our stronghold,” said Syed Aminul Haque, a spokesperson of the MQM-P, “In the past, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Asghar Khan, and other outsiders have tried to win from Karachi and failed badly.”
He further admitted that his party is going through an internal crisis, but he insists that its support base and organisational structure at the grassroots level are still intact.