Soul-Searching With in PTI, JI After MQM Victory

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf is contemplating a new strategy focusing on enhancing grass-roots contacts as a way to regain lost ground to rival Muttahida Qaumi Movement in the April 7 by-polls.

This purported ‘new strategy’ is being deliberated upon after the PTI faced ‘betrayal’ by its candidate, who withdrew in favour of the MQM a few hours before the polling in NA-245 constituency, and for losing out on PS-115.

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Soul-searching within PTI, JI after MQM victory

Meanwhile, Jamaat-i-Islami, after staying out of the by-polls, looks towards its “religious edge” to regain political ground lost to the MQM and other political parties in the city. Speaking about the by-polls, PTI-Karachi leader Ali Zaidi said that the recently concluded election was more of a “workers poll in which party workers participated more than the people” which was evident by a low turnout. Beginning with the PTI, the political party faced a huge blow during April 7 by-polls when its candidate from NA-245, Amjadullah Khan, defected to the MQM at the last moment citing “mismanagement and overall neglect during campaigning from the PTI”. At the same time, despite walking out at the last moment, Khan had managed to gain 1,489 votes from the constituency. 

Three years back, during the general elections of 2013, PTI candidates showed that they enjoyed a vote bank in MQM strongholds. For instance, PTI candidate Riaz Haider gained more than 50,000 votes from the same constituency, NA-245, against MQM candidate Rehan Hashmi who bagged 100,000 votes. During the same elections, PTI candidates obtained 30,000, 32,000, 35,000 and 39,000 votes from NA-243, NA-246, NA-247 in Karachi’s central district and NA-251 respectively in Karachi’s East district that had been considered MQM strongholds. Even locally, PTI candidates showed a striking voting figure by gaining more than 20,000 votes against MQM candidates from PS-103, PS-105, PS-116, PS-118, PS-119 and PS-120.

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PTI candidate from PS-118 Arsalan Ghumman in particular gained 31,802 votes against MQM candidate who won with a little more than 56,000 votes. However, it has been downhill for the PTI since the general elections. Within three years, PTI lost three local elections and a sense of strife and mismanagement was witnessed within the party cadre. After facing defeat in the Dec 5, 2015 local government elections in which the party made an alliance with the JI, PTI’s Ali Zaidi announced his resignation from the party. The PTI-JI alliance managed to bag only four out of the 205 seats on which the LG polls were held. In January this year, the PTI dissolved all party offices and announced intra-party elections by June. Observers believe that the voting mantra of the PTI-JI alliance during the LG elections focused a lot on MQM bashing than suggesting solutions to the city’s overwhelming issues related to water and electricity shortage.

Mr Zaidi attributed these losses to “the absence of the central leadership from Karachi”, adding that he conveyed his thoughts to the party leadership that they need to refocus on Karachi. “See, it’s not as if we won’t make mistakes. What we won’t do however is to sit out during the elections. We’ll contest every election irrespective of results.” He also refuted the claim that PTI faced losses due to the alliance with the JI. “This time there was no JI and yet we didn’t manage even a 10 per cent [of votes] compared to what we earned before,” he said. When asked whether the earlier votes they had earned were due to the influence of the JI, he also refuted that, adding that it “was a joint vote from voters of PTI and JI”.

Speaking further, Mr Zaidi said that this time around, they were focusing on a “low-profile campaign, which worked against us”. At the same time, he believed that “somewhere, I think our voters lost faith in the electoral process”. He said that after giving a dent to the MQM, “we didn’t follow work and meet-ups on ground. But it should be considered that we are pitched against a party that has been part of the city for decades.” When asked about Mustafa Kamal’s Pak Sarzameen Party creating a dent in their vote bank, he said,

“They [Mustafa Kamal’s party] will create a dent in MQM’s vote bank, not ours.” City chief of the JI Hafiz Naeemur Rehman said that the party needed to refocus on “our religious edge which has been our forte for decades”. There’s an internal debate going on within the JI, according to a party member. “It focuses on the question raised by many of its workers and students leaders, whether the party needs to run into electoral politics or tilt towards militancy,” the member added. This discussion, the party member adds, is borne out by the successive defeats Jamaat faced in the local elections. Hafiz Naeem lost to MQM’s candidate Mazhar Hussain in UC-18 by gaining only 702 votes against his 3,205. In light of earlier and recent defeats, the JI decided to sit out the by-polls as they had “reservations with the voter’s list”.

 They are at present focusing on three strategies. One is to focus on electoral system, which they believe is running on a “flawed voter’s list”. Second, the JI leader said, there was a clear discrepancy in the number of votes gained by the losing candidates and the winning candidates. “A candidate of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam losing out on 185 votes to other candidates’ 15,000 votes is a clear discrepancy in our opinion,” he added. The JI boycotted the general elections of 2013 around 12:30pm and according to Merajul Huda Siddiqi, the JI Sindh chief, he had earned 24,000 votes in NA-245 by that time. “We sit it out in the by-polls this time, because we believe we need a breathing space to figure out our next strategy,” he added. 

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The basic question of whether or not to continue in the electoral politics is a crucial one and similar to what JI faced in the 1950s, according to Professor Jafar Ahmad of the Pakistan Study Center at the University of Karachi. “There is an opinion within the rank and file of the JI that if they can’t enter through electoral politics than why not through militancy,” Mr Ahmad said. He added that the militant peak of the JI was seen during the era of Qazi Hussain Ahmed in the 2000s and later during the time of Munawar Hasan who was famously quoted as saying, “the Taliban are martyrs and not the army men who die fighting them”. He added, “The current chief of the JI, Siraj Ul Haq, earlier seen as a wise and moderate element within the JI, also sided with the pro-Qadri protesters in Islamabad. Weakening of the moderate element within the JI coupled with electoral defeats is influencing or bringing back a pro-militant ideology among its workers.”