Local government, local allies: Mayor mends fences in the battle for power

Wasim Akhtar initiates reconciliation efforts with former political rivals to gain support


Hafeez Tunio November 30, 2016
Mayor Waseem Akhtar inaugurating fumigation campaign. PHOTO: PPI

KARACHI: Once considered a hardliner and a firm believer in the muscle power of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar has taken upon himself to market a softer image of the party while trying to win over the political foes of yesteryears.

Signalling a change in the long-established strategy of the party, he has started a series of reconciliatory meetings with MQM’s arch rivals, either to seek their help for the welfare of the much-neglected city or to convince them to join his efforts to strengthen local bodies’ institutions through workable financial and administrative powers.

His visits to Awami National Party (ANP) office, Mardan House, on Wednesday and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) provincial headquarters Insaaf House on Monday indicated a major shift in the MQM’s policy.

Earlier last week Akhtar visited the Sindh Assembly and met ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) lawmakers and speaker Agha Siraj Durrani. He also called on Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah. Though, the chief minister assured the mayor of his support, he reportedly expressed his inability to invest more powers in the local bodies beyond what is there in the Local Government Law, 2013. But the mayor will not give it up and continues his struggle.

The MQM and ANP leaders in the past had leveled serious allegations against each for worsening law and order and so was the case with the PTI. But after the local government elections and release of Akhtar from prison, the ‘troika’ seems to have evolved a consensus over the powers of mayors for the city.

ANP leaders, who had once demanded a ban on the MQM calling it ‘evil’, have now come to terms with the party’s softer image. “We have serious reservations over MQM’s politics but the mayor has assured us that, after disowning Altaf Hussain, his party is going through a ‘reincarnation’ process and would take all stakeholders into confidence for the development of the city,” said ANP Sindh’s secretary-general Younus Buneri. According to Buneri they have 132 councillors, two union committee chairmen and four vice-chairman in various areas of Karachi and his party’s elected representatives are in favour of giving the mayor more powers. “We, as a coalition partner of the PPP, contested the [LG] election against the MQM and still sit on opposition benches in all of Karachi’s councils, but we can put aside our differences on one point agenda, which is development of the city,” he remarked.

The same reaction came from PTI. Akhtar visited the party’s Karachi headquarters where he was welcomed by deputy secretary-general Imran Ismail, Karachi president Firdous Shamim Naqvi and MPA Khurram Sher Zaman. Ismail said, “Irrespective of political differences, we are with the mayor on the powers issue”.

Talking to the media after the meeting, Akhtar said he wants the confidence and support of all the parties in order to empower the LG system. “I believe there should be no opposition, as presently my situation is as similar to the opposition members in the council, since I have no powers to use,” said Akhtar.

The city deserves to get a pay back after it helped the federal government increase the annual budget with the larger part of the country’s taxes collected from Karachi, said the mayor. “There is no time for politics now, we will be seen in the streets of the city from where we got the mandate,” said Akhtar.

Ismail said they are united on this one point agenda of making Karachi better and more peaceful.

Naqvi added that they have assured Akthar of their support for the full empowerment of local body system but he should also work for the city and bring a change for the citizens otherwise they would live up to their name of ‘dharna specialists’.

After visiting the PTI, the mayor plans to visit another rival party, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), today. “We don’t want to live in the past. My humble request to all parties is to make a joint strategy to mount pressure on the government to gain more powers for LG representatives,” Akhtar told The Express Tribune.  He added that the chief minister had personally assured him of his help and the mayor is now waiting for the CM to fulfil that promise.

“All treasury and opposition members in the council should put aside their differences and [agree] on the one point agenda,” he said.

JI’s Sindh president Mirajul Huda Siddiqui said that not only the mayor but all elected representatives should be given powers with accountability. “We will welcome the mayor if he comes and seeks our support. We are ready for it,” he said.

MQM wants Sindh govt to contribute to mayor’s 100-day plan

Muttahida Qaumi Movement - Pakistan (MQM) head Farooq Sattar has warned the Pakistan Peoples Party-led Sindh government that it will face litigation, demonstrations and sit-ins if it does not contribute to the Karachi mayor’s 100-day plan to revamp the city.

Addressing a press conference at MQM makeshift headquarters in PIB Colony on Wednesday, Sattar criticised the provincial government for what he claimed was its ‘criminal negligence’ due to which the metropolis lagged behind in terms of basic necessities. “The Sindh government should give Rs200 million to each district municipal corporation and billions of rupees to the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation for the development of the city,” he said.

Mayor Wasim Akhtar had announced on Tuesday a cleanliness and development drive, which will kick-off today and end on March 10 next year. He had said that districts East, Korangi and Central will be covered in the first phase. Other districts where the party does not hold sway will also be developed under the plan with all the available resources. “[Akhtar] is not only our mayor. He is the mayor of everybody living in this city,” said Sattar.

The 100-day drive aims to create a sense of ownership among citizens and urge them to contribute to the city’s cleanliness and development, he said. He added that although his party did not claim to make exemplary changes, it will do whatever it can in the given resources.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2016.

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