The visit of Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan-Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), on April 9 to Karachi was brief and chaotic, but in hindsight may be seen as something of a watershed in the politics of the city. His visit was in support of the PTI candidate, Imran Ismail, who is contesting from the NA-246 (Karachi-VIII) by-election being held on April 23. There is a sense that the political sands in Karachi may be shifting, and the PTI is developing into a major player in the city’s politics. Historically, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has been the dominant force in large parts of the city. Political theatrics and grandstanding aside — nothing is forever in politics, and constant change is here to stay, even if that change is slow and extremely untidy, and appears to lack uniformity.
Both the PTI and the MQM have vast organisational capacity and can pull very large crowds on to the streets almost at the drop of a hat. The PTI lacks the depth and breadth structurally that the MQM has built over the years, but it is catching up. Rigged or not, a lot of people in Karachi voted for the PTI in 2013. The total votes for the PTI in Karachi, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), were 527,677; against the figure for MQM votes which is 1,807,491. At the very least, the PTI has an established vote bank in the city, but it is unlikely to bridge a very large gap numerically. It does not appear to be in a position to overtake the MQM, which can point to any number of achievements during its long reign in the city, whereas all the PTI can offer are promises thus far, and promises are a lot less substantial than flyovers.
Nonetheless, over half a million people in Karachi voted for the PTI in the 2013 elections and there does appear to be a body of popular support for a party that has shaken the political dice all over the country. The PTI still lacks maturity, and might have made some questionable decisions during the last year. However, it is clearly a change agent, and the politics of Pakistan are long overdue for a change. We await future developments with interest.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th, 2015.
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