Today the residents of Karachi na-249 district head to the polls to elect a member to the lower house Pakistan’s Parliament (National Assembly) after its member, Faisal Vawda, resigned from the seat to run for Senate which he won in March. This by-election is an important one and there are many factors that play into this.
Background of Karachi
Karachi is the most populous city of Pakistan and is the financial capital of Pakistan. To better understand this, Karachi is like the New York City of Pakistan. The city is comprised of ethnic Muhajirs – Muslims that immigrated to Pakistan from India after India was partitioned into Muslim Majority Pakistan and Hindu Majority India in 1947. Many Indian Muslims migrated and have settled in the city of Karachi, making it an ethnic Muhajir majority city, and it is the only place with a Muhajir majority.
Besides this, Pakistan has various ethnic groups. The main ethnic groups are Punjabis, Saraikis, Sindhis, Muhajirs, Balochis, Kashmiris, Pashtuns, and more. Though Karachi has a Muhajir-majority population, there are various other ethnic groups that live in Karachi, and the NA (National Assembly) district that this by-election is taking place is ethnically diverse. The district is divided between Pashtuns, Punjabis, and Muhajirs.
Pakistan’s Ethnic Divide
Political parties in Pakistan have been formed to attract certain ethnic groups. For example, the Pakistan Muslim League (N) is a political party which attracts ethnic Punjabis, and the Pakistan People’s Party is a political party which attracts ethnic Sindhis. Awami National Party (ANP) and Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) are political parties that attract ethnic Pashtuns, the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) attracts Balochis, and so on. As for the ethnic Muhajirs, their political party is the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).
The MQM party has consistently won Karachi in provincial and national elections until the recent national elections 2018, when they suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (lit. Pakistan Movement for Justice) (PTI) party. PTI is currently the ruling party and successfully dominated Karachi in the last elections. It is unique because it does not target a specific ethnic group and instead aims to target all those who are of Pakistani, regardless of ethnicity or background. However, PTI has performed well in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, which is a Pashtun-majority province in Pakistan (Karachi is a city situated in the Sindh province, so do not confuse Karachi being in the KP province). This factor may benefit the PTI since na-249 has a significant number of Pashtuns in Karachi. In addition, the candidate they have fielded in their election is Amjad Afridi, who is a Pashtun belonging to the Afridi tribe, and he is a local, so this will give them a huge benefit.
The Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party is popular among ethnic Punjabis. Punjabis form about 44% of the population in Pakistan, making them the largest ethnic group in the country. This has given a significant advantage to PML-N and has helped them dominate national elections and provincial elections in the Punjab province. Though the significant Punjabi population may benefit the PML-N, they have performed poorly in the Sindh province, where the city of Karachi is located. In the last election, PML-N failed to win a single seat from the Sindh province and Karachi in the national and provincial elections. The candidate that has been fielded by PML-N is Miftah Ismail, who previously ran in the district in 2018. However, he lost that race Ali Haider Zaidi, who is serving as the Minister of Maritime Affairs under Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet. He had previously served as the Finance Minister under the previous government.
Though MQM is a party for the Muhajir community, there have been recent political developments. There is a new party that has emerged called Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP); its name draws from the first two words of the Pakistani National Anthem. PSP was formed in 2016 by Syed Mustafa Kamal, who was previously a member of the MQM party and the former Mayor of Karachi, as well as a Senator. After developing differences with the MQM, he left the party and formed PSP, and it has attracted dissidents of MQM. They failed to win a single seat in the 2018 elections. However, this information cannot be factored in for this by-election since the party was recently created. PSP’s Syed Mustafa Kamal has an advantage due to his name recognition. He has been previously elected from the constituency as a member of MQM and the constituency has a large Muhajir community.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is a left-wing party whose strong base lies in the Sindh province. They have managed to win several national elections in Pakistan’s history; the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan, Behnazir Bhutto, belonged to the PPP. Though PPP is popular and dominant in the Sindh province, they have performed fairly well since Karachi is a Muhajir-majority city. However, there are a significant number of ethnic Sindhis, which has helped PPP to bag a few seats from the city. However, this specific constituency does not have a significant Sindhi population, which means that the PPP’s chances of winning the by-election are very low. The candidate they have fielded is Qadir Khan Mandokhail. He claims to have name recognition in the district after the 2018 elections for participating in community service events.
Before April 15, 2021, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik (lit. I am present Pakistan movement) (TLP) took part in the elections. TLP had a high chance of winning the election since it managed to win a seat from the constituency in the provincial elections in 2018, but it did not win the seat in the 2018 national elections. However, after violent protests and clashes between the party and police throughout Pakistan, the government has banned TLP under the 1997 anti-terrorism laws.
The two most significant issues that voters have expressed were the lack of clean water/poor drinking water and the lack of infrastructure. In three polls that have been taken which asked the constituents who their most favorite leader is, two out of three polls showed that the current Prime Minister Imran Khan was their most favorite leader. This benefits the PTI candidate Amjad Afridi, since he belongs to the PTI. In one poll, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was the constituency’s most favorite leader, which may benefit Miftah Ismail as Nawaz Sharif belongs to the PML-N party.
This by-election is a very important election. Keeping in view that Karachi is the most populous city in Pakistan and has water and infrastructure problems, this will be a referendum on the PTI’s performance. This is because they previously managed to win almost all districts of Karachi, including na-249. There have been numerous attempts since the 2018 elections by opposition parties to topple the PTI government and prevent Prime Minister Imran Khan from completing his five-year term, so this by-election is a big deal that will foreshadow which party might win the next elections, which are expected to take place in 2023.