KARACHI: Yousuf Ahmed, a resident of Gulshan-e-Iqbal Karachi, is not going to exercise his right to vote in the general elections and he is not alone. At least a dozen of his family members, who have been voting for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) for nearly three decades, will abstain.
The reason, Ahmed said, is the call from London, where the party’s founder Altaf Hussain had been remotely running his party since his self-exile in the early 1990s. He now heads MQM, which is referred to as MQM-London.
“What elections? This is selection and will be of no use for the community,” Ahmed told Arab News.
Ahmed alleges that when force is applied, and people are prevented from exercising their free-will, it results in nothing.
There are many in the Urdu-speaking community — popularly known as Mohajirs — who think along the same lines but there are many more who still find protection in “Kite” — an election symbol this time allotted to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) — against uncertain fear being inbuilt in them over decades.
Noman Ali, a shopkeeper in the Korangi neighborhood of the city, said that his vote will go to the MQM-P. The reason, he said, is that they are his own people, who will take care of him. “We have no alternatives. We know that the party has been disconnected from our Quid (leader) Altaf Hussain but we have no other options; if we really want to survive we have to vote for Kite,” Ali told Arab News.
Waseem Aftab, senior leader of the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) — a party formed in March 2016 by Mustafa Kamal, MQM’s former mayor of Karachi, and Anees Qaimkhani, the mind behind MQM’s present organizational structure — claims PSP has defeated the fear.
“The majority of the community, which would vote for language and ethnicity in the past, will vote for Pakistan now,” Aftab told Arab News.
“We are not just giving a political statement. Most of us at the PSP are the people who have been heading and running MQM’s election campaigns, we have strong contacts with our people and they will vote for us,” Aftab says, claiming not only Urdu-speaking but Karachiites speaking any language will vote for the PSP, making it the largest political party of the city.
Zubair Ashraf, a journalist covering the MQM, said that the Urdu-speaking community accepted MQM-P chief Dr. Farooq Sattar out of necessity, as although he disowned Altaf Hussain, they would not accept Mustafa Kamal due to the harsh language the former mayor had been using against MQM’s founder.
Founded in 1984, the MQM won the hearts of the people of Karachi and grabbed nine out of 11 national assembly seats from the seaside Pakistani metropolis in the 1988 general elections, in which the party fielded independent candidates. In the next elections in 1990, it fought with the name of Haq Parasat Group, and the MQM performed well by securing 10 out of 11 seats. The MQM boycotted the 1993 vote but in the next elections, in 1997, it won nine out 11 seats in Karachi.
In 2002, the alliance of religious parties, Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA), won five seats. Two seats were secured by the Pakistan People’s Party and one by Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM-H), leaving 12 seats for MQM, which was its poorest performance (60 percent of seats) since its inception. However, the party bounced back and won 17 each out of 20 in the next two general polls in 2008 and 2013.
The next years were the toughest. Altaf Hussain, frustrated by a large number of votes taken by Imran Khan’s PTI and following the detention of workers during Karachi’s targeted operation by the Rangers, delivered a controversial anti-Pakistan speech on Aug. 22, 2016, distancing himself from the party he had founded.
Although Dr. Farooq Sattar saved his party by disowning Altaf Hussain and getting the party registered in his name, his conflict with senior leader Aamir Khan led to a split in the party, which remained till the PIB and Bahadurabad factions united on June 15.
Given the current scenario of splits, factions and calls for boycott, analysts believe that the strong resume of MQM will hardly help it perform like in past elections.
“If anyone claims with certainty that they know where the electoral cards will fall in Karachi ... then they’re either Nostradamus ... or they’re lying,” said Zarrar Khuhro, a senior analyst and host of a talk show at Dawn News.
Khuhro said that politics was unpredictable at the best of times and the election in Karachi would be more unpredictable than ever. “With the MQM in disarray, we see many players looking for gains in Karachi, as evidenced by Shehbaz Sharif’s campaigning here.”
Aminul Haque, central leader of the MQM, said that it was not the first time his party had faced a tough situation. “Our headquarters and other offices are closed; our workers were discriminately targeted in Karachi operation, but we have a history of performing well because the people of Karachi trust the MQM, which has always stood for them,” Haq told Arab News.
Dr. Professor Tauseef Ahmed, an expert on the city’s political history, said that if Hussain emphasized the boycott, the MQM-P may find itself in difficulties. “Otherwise, it will be the largest party, followed by PPP, PTI and MMA, leaving its subtotal as its lowest in MQM’s election history,” Dr. Ahmed told Arab News.
“The mandate of Urdu speaking will go to MQM-P and PSP, though the former will get the major share,” Ashraf said.
He disagrees with Dr. Ahmed. “As I have spoken to many workers and supporters of the MQM, most of them will vote for MQM-P despite its fractionalization and internal rifts,” Ashraf said, adding that lately leaders associated with the PIB and Bahadurabad factions had buried the hatchet, which would benefit the party.
Khuhro said that the Pakistan People’s Party would get its three or so seats and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf should also make gains, though perhaps less than they should have given their showing in last elections.
“However, while the MQM is highly unlikely to sweep the way they used to, they will most likely still be Karachi’s largest party,” he said.