Despite a setback in Badin and some lost ground in Lyari, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has seen a major victory in Sindh. The party has won all the district councils in the first two phases of local elections, a majority 21 of the 38 councils in Karachi District Council (KDC), and 17 union committees of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC).
Its former ally, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), will run Hyderabad, the KMC, and four of its districts – the Central, West, Korangi and East districts.
The PPP is in control of the KDC – consisting of the city’s suburbs – and the South and Malir districts. It will also rule over the rest of Sindh.
Coming at a time when the party is being accused of corruption and poor governance in the province, the remarkable victory has raised a lot of questions.
“The PPP hasn’t won the elections because of its performance,” says Jami Chandio, executive director of the Center for Peace and Civil Society (CPCS), a think tank based in Sindh. “There are several other factors that have helped the party retain support among voters.” An emotional bond between the party and the Sindhi masses is not one of them, he says. That bond does not exist any longer.
“People believe that a party in power can better resolve their routine problems, even if it fails to deliver on a larger scale,” says Irshad Khokhar, a Karachi based journalist who covers governance and politics in Sindh.
A key factor is that there is no competition. “The PML-N has never aimed to expand its base in Sindh,” says Chandio. “The PTI could have been an alternative, but it focused solely on Karachi and paid little attention to rural Sindh.” Sindhi ethnic political parties have become irrelevant, he says. “They never came out of the politics of the 1980s. They could have revisited their narratives, but they haven’t done so, probably deliberately.”
Veteran journalist Riaz Sohail says Sindhi ethnic parties practice “issue-based politics”, and that does not translate into electoral success. They are weak in “politics of constituencies”. Jalal Mehmood Shah’s Jeay Sindh group and Ayaz Palijo’s Awami Tehreek are exceptions to some extent, he says, but they focus on specific narrow areas.
‘They backed Hindu candidates to defeat the Arbabs’
The PPP defeated a possible contender, the PML-F, with good strategy. “The People’s Party worked hard, bringing on board anyone who had even ten or twenty votes. No such mobilization was seen on the part of the PML-F,” says Riaz Sohail. When some of the party’s workers were killed in the first phase of the elections, there were no major protests. Riaz says that may have been viewed negatively by the PML-F voters. The party had six district Nazims in 2005. Now, it will have none.
The two major parties – the PPP and the MQM – have been criticized for not challenging each other, focusing on their own separate areas of interest.
“There is a strong misconception that the people of Sindh don’t consider the governance factor. The real question is, what alternatives do they have?” says Jami Chandio. “They feel secure voting for the PPP and the MQM, and the two parties exploit their voters by making them feel insecure.”
There is a strong perception among Sindhis that if they do not vote for the PPP, the power will shift to the MQM. “Whenever the MQM has formed a coalition government with anyone other than the PPP, it has been the primary center of power,” says Chandio.
Wakeelur Rehman, a local journalist, agrees. “The local council elections in Karachi highlighted the same feeling of insecurity among the Urdu speaking people, which helped the MQM win in Urdu speaking localities,” he says.
The only signs of a formidable opposition can be seen in the large number of independent candidates that won this time. “Voters in small cities have shown political maturity and reacted to bad governance,” Riaz Sohail says. “The total votes to parties other than the PPP and independent candidates is higher than the number of votes to the PPP. The anti-PPP vote is divided.”
An interesting phenomenon in these elections is the massive defeat of three major influential political families – the Arbabs of Tharparkar, the Sheerazis of Thattha and the Jatois of Moro and Naushehro Feroz. “The PPP wiped out the Arbabs by fielding Hindu candidates,” according to Chandio. “That strategy worked well for it.” In the past, most of the candidates belonged to the Muslim minority or upper class Hindus, but the provincial ministers Gayan Chand Esrani and Kato Mal, both from scheduled castes, played a major role in awarding tickets to people from the scheduled castes. In all three cases, a mistrust towards former representatives and the fact that the PPP is in power in the province were also critical factors.
The writer is a Karachi-based journalist