Pakistan has edged yet closer to democracy with the third phase of the local government polls in the country concluding on December 5. The polls were conducted in reasonably good order, and aside from some scuffles and the routine allegations of sundry rigging by sundry losers — were peaceful. In Karachi in particular, women voted in considerable numbers, as did first-time voters, it is reported anecdotally. The clear — indeed emphatic — winner in the city is the MQM and the party is to be congratulated. In all likelihood, the MQM will be doing the mayor-making, and with 134 of the 209 union committees in the bag, its position is unassailable. In purely electoral terms, the MQM has delivered a metaphorical thrashing to its opponents, and a majority of Karachi voters have made their preferences crystal clear. This is no flash-in-the-pan; people were making a choice that they know will affect the lives of everybody in the metropolis for years to come.
The MQM has won, but it has work to do beyond filling mayoral positions. It is a party badly in need, indeed long overdue, of reform. It has a substantial mandate and it is now for the MQM to deliver governance in Karachi that is transparent, competent and as free of corruption as may be possible, accepting that corruption is never going to be completely eradicated being in the political genes as it is. It needs to move on from the thuggery that all too often has characterised it and tainted its image — internationally as well as in-country. It also needs to work within a pluralistic political environment. Popular it may be, but not with everybody, and its opponents will be alert to any return to the bad behaviour of the past. The win is not a licence to continue as before, more a mandate for change. Anything less will be a betrayal of the trust the electorate has reposed.
Somebody has to lose in every election and the MQM win has produced some significant losers. The PPP has both won and lost. It has made gains in the peripheral areas beyond the inner mass of the conurbation. In Malir and district West, it has secured 21 of the 38 Union Council seats. It has emerged as the second-largest party in the KMC with 25 seats and 21 of the Union Councils that make up the district council. The PPP has long nurtured the ambition to elect the council chairman, a post it has held but once since the formation of the council in 1963.
Trailing far behind were the also-rans. The alliance between the PTI and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) failed to find favour with the voters. Religious parties have never polled well anywhere in the country, but this was yet another indicator that the PTI is failing to gain traction outside its heartland of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. It has failed consistently in local government elections (with some notable exceptions in Punjab) and its leader, Imran Khan, called an informal meeting of leading figures in the party on December 6 to review its poor performance in Karachi and elsewhere. Hitching the PTI wagon to the JI proved fruitful for neither.
The MQM now has all to play for in Karachi. It won fair and square by a popular vote. All other parties in the city sit in its shade. As yet, there is no indication as to who might gain the mayoralty, and there is a hard act to follow — Mustafa Kamal. Popular and charismatic, his years at the helm transcended much of the opprobrium that the party attracted. Election aside, the Karachi operation continues to tackle at least some of the criminal and terrorist elements that have poisoned the city for decades. This will have an impact on the MQM. The operation must continue despite howls of protest. The people have voted. It is for the MQM to prove that their trust was not misplaced.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 8th, 2015.