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Sindh’s political temperature

The PPP leadership is confident about its development work in Sindh and believes that the party will be rewarded with another electoral victory. In an attempt to sell Sindh as a success story, Syed Khursheed Shah – the current opposition leader and one-time aspirant for the chief minister’s slot in Sindh – has invited the people of the country to “come and [witness] development in Sindh”.

Khursheed Shah wants us to believe that Sindh has become a model of development in Pakistan. But what makes the province a model for development? A few days ago, PPP supporters took to Twitter with a hashtag #TharBadlegaPakistan – Thar’s coal power project will change the fate of Pakistan.

Few elements in the mainstream media have bought into the PPP’s success story. Following the party’s electoral defeat in 2013, Nadeem Afzal Chan – who was then a member of the PPP – had accused the media of playing a conscious role in cultivating a bad image for the party.

Khursheed Shah’s statement came days after PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif held a public meeting in the home constituency of his party’s provincial president Shah Muhammad Shah in Bhan near Hyderabad. Shahbaz Sharif, who is known for making claims on the provision of power supply within a tightened timeframe, has made a pledge to provide electricity to the people of Sindh that, according to him, hasn’t been provided by the Sindh government.

Meanwhile, PPP workers have held protests against long hours of loadshedding and accused the federal government of pursuing ‘a policy of punishment’ towards people in Sindh. It is true that the PMN-N does not have strong political stakes in Sindh. As a result, it doesn’t care whether people in Sindh gain power or not as most of the PML-N’s parliamentarians have either left the party or joined the PTI. Others have decided to contest elections as independent candidates and later join the party that eventually forms the government. This has been a long-standing tradition among electables; they are all seasoned birds.

The PML-N’s biggest political wicket was Ismail Rahu from Badin, who left the party and joined the PPP. Abdul Hakeem Baloch, its sole MNA from Karachi’s Malir district, has already left. He was re-elected on a PPP ticket and became a member of the National Assembly. The PML-N’s support base in Sindh is now based on three families: the Shirazi brothers of Thatta; Arbab Rahim in Tharparkar; and Ghulam Murtaza Jatoi in Naushahro Feroze. All three have a history of switching sides and joining every anti-PPP alliance – though without making a difference. They have often been allies of a centre-backed MQM-led alliance in the province.

Playing the victim card and levelling accusations of injustice are practices that run rife ahead of elections while the agenda for positive change has been ignored. Every political player is a victim. The MQM has a great deal to cry about. It sees fault at everyone’s door, whether it is the PPP, the centre, the PTI or other forces.

The PPP held a massive public gathering in the MQM’s stronghold in Liaquatabad on April 28 – a peaceful gathering that would have been unimaginable in the past. For years, Karachi saw armed militia controlling various parts of the city. Earlier, the PTI not only held a rally but also contested elections from the city.

No constituency in any part of the country should be considered the personal property of a party. Citizens have rights and should have free access to alternative voices and perspectives. We must let them experience different parties. Part of our problem is that we have turned political constituencies into ethnic battlegrounds. Bilawal’s rally united rival MQM groups. Good for them. But they should now show some tolerance towards other political forces. If anyone and everyone can contest elections from Lahore, Quetta and Peshawar, then why can’t they do the same from any part of Karachi?

Unfortunately, the MQM has reverted to playing its Mohajir card. The progress that it had made over the decades to become a mainstream party has been lost. It remains to be seen whether this Mohajir card will work wonders for the MQM in the elections – the party’s first one after it disowned its founder.

The PSP is least likely to dent the MQM’s votes. In a similar vein, the MQM-H was never a threat to its electoral politics. However, it is the MQM’s own politics and the use of other non-political means to maintain its hegemony on the city that have caused the party’s decline. An open political competition without an environment of fear – the fear of being kidnapped and killed – will definitely produce different results. If this had not been the case, why were violent means used against opponents?

The citizens of Karachi will ultimately benefit from an open political competition in the city. This is why the federal government has allocated Rs25 billion for the provision of water to the city in Budget 2018-19. No matter which party forms the next government, it would be difficult for them to undo budgetary allocations for Karachi.

The PPP’s rule under Murad Ali Shah has steadily focused on Karachi’s development. This year alone, development packages worth Rs12 billion were announced, out of which Rs10 billion were released by the finance department in the first nine months of the current fiscal year. Development projects worth Rs17.5 billion are under way in the city. These include the construction of roads, bridges and metro bus lanes, which are a few development priorities for the government that are visible to citizens.

The PPP does have the chance to put up a tough competition in many constituencies in the city. Karachi has a history of violent elections and contesting for political office has been tantamount to risking one’s life. This has finally ended over the years and it seems as though the capacity – if not the will – to inflict terror on others has been weakened due to the Rangers continued operation.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) – the main opposition alliance in Sindh that mainly targets the PPP’s hardcore support base – has started a new narrative ahead of the elections about NAB withdrawing all cases of alleged corruption against the PPP leadership. This indicates that a deal has been made with the PPP by the powerful and unelected centres of power in the country.

We should be ready to embrace more stories of deals and counter-deals. Politics is a messy business everywhere. The struggle to knock down political wickets rather than win the hearts and minds of people is under way. This is the new reality of Pakistan’s electoral politics.

Mushtaq Rajpar, "Sindh’s political temperature," The news. 2018-05-13.
Keywords: Political science , General election , Electoral victory , Opposition leader , Power projects , Social media , Federal government , Political stakes , National Assembly , Political player , PPP , MQM , PTI , PML-N