NA-246: bye-‘by?

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

geust-contWILL the bye-election in Karachi’s NA-246 yield a significantly different result from the one last obtained? Already there are signs of using any changes further to impugn the conduct of the national elections of 2013 and psychologically underwrite Imran’s allegations. And what does Imran Khan have to say when he stops ranting about electoral fraud and corruption and intimidation? Well the party is having a try at talking about liberating the ladies and caring for the street-child. If PTI is thinking of reaching hearts and minds in Karachi NA-264 the new tack needs a different pitch.

The ladies in Karachi’s constituencies (even when Burqa clad) are formidably liberated or else entirely articulate about the need thereof. Street-children – ah yes – that is a good note – they should be state-children the party powerful were saying in Peshawar. Ought Karachi’s voters to assume the state just arrived in the PTI-governed KP hasn’t had a chance to get cracking? But street children PTI went on to elaborate are everyone’s concern. Indeed they are, and several apolitical Karachi NGOs are devoted to caring for them, not to mention the individual discharge of social responsibility in Zakat and other endowments apart from Shaukat Khanum ones.

The fact is the PTI cannot fault or electorally challenge the MQM in the context of female empowerment; providing the poorer middle-classes a political platform with a strong party infrastructure; or caring for its family of voters – A Godfather is better than no father at all. Undeniably, the MQM (and it is not alone in this though it may be outstanding) also had a constituency of fear. That has already been undercut and really not by or because of cricket captains – Karachi-ites witnessed the conciliatory tactics and observations prior to some of Imran’s dharnas and jalsas when he needed the MQM’s neutrality. The attitude changed after Fortress-90 and its champions were fixed.

Karachi-ites do not overlook that effect too was brought about by force that generated fear.

If MQM voters were a shackled majority they have now been unshackled; but has NA-246 been rendered a truly level playing field? People may now be afraid to endorse the MQM. To assume everyone is thanking the powers that be that they don’t have to, would be like assuming the cloudy weather prevailing around Larkana circa April 5 has entirely washed out the Zardari-Bhutto led PPP. The PPP and the MQM have both known sustained and systematic militarily-expressed political enmity. They have survived. Obviously there is a diehard party constituency as well as cultist passion. The Altaf inspired MQM is not national but you need to be container-contained to doubt MQM’s representation of urban Sindh.

The LEA protection demanded and needed by MQM challengers and the desistance from campaigning by the MQM in NA-246 tell their own story. It is interesting that the JI candidate has so far appeared less dependent on protective posses than the PTI and shown a deeper following. Though the captain’s band still claims his Jalsa turnout will put others to shame.

Imran has often said he only believes in winning. The MQM may have been knocked out for this bout, but there may be political wisdom in PTI ceding the JI a walkover. For probably the saddest thing that could happen to Imran’s PTI is winning the NA-246 bye-election. He would have to deal with meeting the expectations of a highly palpable and visible (even without media coverage) politically polished constituency. And the waffling will have to stop: If its candidate stands and wins he will have to deliver – Even free Imran-graced cricket training camps for fans will not translate into retaining votes.

One last thing: NA-246 is in that very city that Pakistan’s politicians don’t tire of saying is the macrocosm’s microcosm. Yet, when harping on the gravity and enormity of repressed and denied constituencies, they don’t recall that in 2013 the Karachi constituencies that felt robbed or cheated of their electoral say were not silent or silenced and re-polling took place – Mafia Dons and establishment Gullu-ism notwithstanding. The over-eager and electorally disappointed forget that Pakistan’s voter has a track record of rejecting massive electoral manipulation intervention rigging and fraud without waiting for months without twitching.