By Zia Ur Rehman

January 28, 2019

Though the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) is still struggling to overcome the turmoil that beset it after it split away from the party founder Altaf Hussain and had to be renamed, which was followed by some of its central leaders defecting to the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) and the worst defeat of its electoral history in the 2018 general elections, the MQM-P has showed that it is still a significant political force in Karachi’s Urdu-speaking localities by winning the PS-94 by-poll on Sunday.

The provincial assembly constituency of PS-94 falls in the Landhi area of the city and largely comprises lower-income Mohajir neighborhoods and pockets of Bengali and Burmese localities. The seat fell vacant on November 27 after the death of MQM-P MPA Muhammad Wajahat who was suffering from cancer.

Although 16 candidates took part in the by-elections, MQM-P candidate Syed Hashim Raza and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) candidate Ashraf Jabbar Qureshi were the key contenders. Among other candidates, PSP’s Muhammad Irfan Waheed, Mohajir Qaumi Movement-Haqiqi’s (MQM-H) Aamir Akhter and Pakistan Peoples Party’s Javed Shaikh were prominent.

According to unofficial results, MQM-P’s Raza won the by-election by a comfortable margin, bagging 21,728 votes. The PTI candidate polled 9223 votes and was the runner-up. The MQM-H, PSP and PPP candidates were able to secure 5,854, 1,646 and 1,466 votes respectively. The voters’ turnout remained low at 18 per cent.

The MQM-P had won the support of the Pakistan Muslim Alliance, a group representing Bengali and Burmese communities, while the Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen, a political party representing Shias, and the Grand Democratic Alliance had announced their support for the PTI candidate.

Polling activity largely remained lackluster on Sunday as much of the excitement from the day of the July 2018 general elections seemed missing at the polling stations. Except those of the MQM-P and the PTI, camps of political parties looked deserted.

In the general polls of July 25, 2018, the MQM-P had emerged victorious in PS-94 with 32,729 votes. The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) candidate was the runner-up who had bagged 14,030 votes. The PTI and MQM-H ranked third and fourth by bagging 13,636 and 10,828 votes respectively.

This time, however, the TLP was not in the fray as the Election Commission of Pakistan did not allow it to contest the by-poll. The TLP has been facing a crackdown after the Barelvi group held massive protests in the country against the acquittal of Asia Bibi by the Supreme Court who had previously been sentenced to death for blasphemy.

In an MQM-P camp situated near Babar Market, local activists of the party were confident that it would retain the constituency. “Our electoral slogan ‘Apna Vote Apno Ke Liye [our vote for our kin]’ in the current situation worked well in the by-poll,” said Shabbir Ahmed, a local activist of the MQM-P. “This by-election is very important for our party as it will refute the propaganda that the MQM-P has been finished from the province’s urban centres after the July general polls.”

In the July 2018 general polls, the PTI emerged triumphant in Karachi by winning most of the national and provincial assembly seats. The MQM-P performed very poorly and managed to win only four National Assembly seats from Karachi out of a total 21 seats. The MQM-P also failed to win any of the following three by-polls in NA-243, NA-247 and PS-111 held in October last year. The PTI managed to secure all the three constituencies.

On the other side, losing PS-94 by-polls is an embarrassing moment for the PTI which has been ruling the Centre. In the 2018 general elections and the initial by-polls, the PTI managed to fully exploit the MQM-P’s organisational weaknesses, internal rifts and, most importantly, the surge in non-traditional voters but now it seems that the party has begun to lose momentum. Local analysts believe that the PTI’s dismal performance in PS-94 would help its rivals, especially the MQM-P, support their claims that the July 25 results in the city were a one-off victory for the PTI and its popularity bubble had now burst.

“We were expecting the defeat. It is mainly because of the lack of organisational structure and leaderships’ entire focus on affluent areas of DHA and Clifton,” admitted Amjad Hussain, a PTI supporter in 36-B area.

To celebrate the party’s victory in the by-poll, MQM-P chief Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui and senior leader Kunwar Naveed Jamil visited Landhi. Siddiqui, who is also a federal minister, said the MQM-P had proved its mettle again on Sunday. “Despite our inner crisis, the MQM-P performance in the by-poll shows that party is a genuine representative of the province’s urban areas,” he said