A resounding victory for MQM

The voters in NA-246 have spoken, and spoken decisively. As the unofficial numbers began to pour in from the 213 polling stations in the constituency, it soon became clear that the MQM’s Kunwar Naveed Jamil would win hands down in what is considered to be his party’s bastion. While his victory was expected, the huge margin by which he outpolled his main rivals was not.

According to official results, there were 95,644 votes cast in his favour compared to 24,821 for the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Imran Ismail and 9,056 for Rashid Naseem, the Jamaat-i-Islami candidate.

Significantly, in this by-election, perceived as perhaps the most free and fair that Karachi has seen in a long time, the MQM’s share of valid votes, 74pc, was around the same in NA-246 during the last elections, a figure that was then allegedly boosted by ballot stuffing.

Read: NA-246: Official results announced, MQM regains seat by huge margin

The PTI’s share of the votes polled went up from 17pc in the general election to 19pc this time. The JI’s share remained more or less the same.

It was however the turnout — nearly 37pc — that made the biggest statement. By-elections are notorious for low turnouts; even in the last by-poll in NA-246 in 2004, less than 25pc of registered voters bothered to stamp the ballot papers.

But that was before the establishment’s recent excesses against the MQM — the public humiliation of its cadres, the tell-all eleventh hour ‘confessional’ by Saulat Mirza, etc — which appear to have only succeeded in polarising the electorate along parochial lines and engendering a siege mentality among MQM supporters. In response, they turned up in droves, on a weekday in hot weather, and voted for the party they perceive is best-placed to protect their interests.

Even in this democratic exercise, the establishment’s heavy footprint was discernible everywhere, from the multiple checking of identity cards to even counting the votes at some polling stations. While the enhanced security did ensure a more peaceful and transparent election, it was the duty of the provincial election commission and its appointees to act as referees — the Rangers’ overt involvement in the electoral process could set an unwelcome precedent.

Given its travails of late, this is for the MQM a sweet victory indeed — one that, for a change, is not marred by allegations of unfair means.

The party obviously has a substantial vote bank, but it should not see this vindication at the hustings as an excuse to go back to its politics of protest and questionable tactics to either ‘control’ the city or manipulate political developments on a wider scale.

Meanwhile, it is to the PTI’s credit that the issue of poll transparency is getting the attention it merits. The PTI should now devote its efforts to an issue-based politics rooted in local dynamics rather than one galvanised by negative criticism, street agitation and the ‘saviour’ rhetoric.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2015