By Shahjahan Khurram
With the sidelining of MQM founder Altaf Hussain after his controversial speech on August 22 in which he made derogatory remarks against the country and its armed forces, various political parties have realised that there is a gaping void to be filled with his absence. One year before general elections 2018, Karachi's political powerhouses, which include JI, MQM-Pakistan and PSP, are flexing their muscles and gearing up to take home the prized city.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has been in power in Sindh for quite a while now hence there's no doubt that the party is responsible for the deplorable state of affairs that the city is in. Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah promised to work wonders for the city but has failed to solve the garbage disposal crisis, let alone tackle other serious issues.
PPP staged a few sit-in protests against the federal government for failing to control the menace of loadshedding. With Nabil Gabol back in the party's fold, PPP will mostly likely win its traditional Lyari seats but fail in other areas of Karachi where it has always taken a backseat to MQM.
Jamaat-e-Islami has taken to the streets and staged sit-ins against K-Electric in order to protest against the menace of load-shedding. While the JI have picked an issue that has tested the patience of the masses for quite a while now and is crucial for the heavily populated city of Karachi, the movement has failed to generate popularity from the masses.
This could be due to the simple fact that JI has been a political stakeholder for too long in Karachi and has failed to tackle loadshedding in the country on previous occasions.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf secured the second highest votes in the city during the general elections of 2013 which sent shockwaves across the city. It angered and inspired fiery speeches from then-MQM chief Altaf Hussain which made it evident that the party was here to stay.
However, PTI has failed to mobilize the masses as far as Karachi is concerned, a fact even Imran Khan has admitted to. While Khan has skirmished against PML-N in Punjab, Karachi lay idle and PTI never clamoured for the rights of the Karachiites when the citizens were suffering from loadshedding and a host of other issues.
PTI's Sindh leadership also lacks any pivotal figure around whom the masses would rally. In 2013, it was Khan's rallyign cry for change that induced votes from various quarters of the city. Khan's party is not a new force anymore hence the cry along with its support will most likely dwindle the next time around.
MQM-Pakistan have organised motorcycle rallies and political gatherings in the recent months. It issued a White Paper against the performance of Sindh Government a couple of months ago which clearly pitted them against the ruling party in Sindh.
MQM-Pakistan, considered the most authentic version of the party (considering the splinter groups ofÂ PSP and MQM-London), has a lot to do in order to scrub off the perception that it is hand-in-glove with the inept Sindh Government with which it has remained in the corridors of power on-and-off for the past couple of years.
Added to that, MQM-Pakistan's Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar's helplessness in solving the metropolis' problems have further dented the party's image that it alone could rid the city of its various complexities. Lets face it, a helpless mayor clamouring for power from the rulers and getting none of it, will have difficulty pulling in votes the next time.
The dark horse in the race for Karachi could be Mustafa Kamal's PSP but that depends on how he positions himself as elections draw near. The PSP chief has so far not been successful in drawing huge crowds to his rallies nor solidified his base in other cities of urban Sindh.
Kamal, known for his stellar work and development projects during his stint as Mayor of Karachi, has kept himself busy in mudslinging with MQM-Pakistan leaders rather than reminding the masses of his glorious past.
PSP held a sit-in outside the Karachi Press Club for a little over than 10 days, demanding water and other utilities such as water and electricity. His thirst for water led him to lead a 'million march' against the incumbent Sindh Government--the enemy he should have been against since day one.
While the march did not render any fruitful results, it has temporarily propelled Mustafa Kamal onto the center-stage of the metropolis's politics and for some, he may have earned the reputation of a leader who braves tear gas shells and water cannons in his fight for the public's rights.
Kamal has the edge over other politicial parties in the sense that he still has that same Imran Khan pull factor-- a new figurehead who is too much familiar with the masses' problems. However, the PSP chief needs to turn his guns towards Sindh Government to solidify his party's base which at the moment, does not look promising enough.
Karachi is a complex city with issues ranging from law and order to power outages, water shortage, lack of sanitation and housing facilities etc. It is pertinent to mention here that while these political entities may be taking the gloves off soon enough, politics does make strange bedfellows at the end of the day.
Hence, it won't be an unfair assessment on the part of an analyst to assume that Karachi's mandate stands divided. There's no apparent winner, no clear party that is poised to take the cake. While MQM-Pakistan may seem to be in a comfortable position, it would be interesting to see how the party fares in the absence of a strong leader such as Altaf Hussain and whether or not, the masses have replaced him with Sattar.
While MQM-Pakistan has been the bastion of power in urban Sindh for more than two decades and PPP in interior Sindh, PSP and MQM-London will certainly dent if not upset MQM-Pakistan's bid to once again win over the middle-class majority that resides in Karachi.
Story first published: 19th May 2017