NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 09

Sindh to play critical role in next elections

Sindh is the second largest province of Pakistan and it has the second most number of seats of the National Assembly of Pakistan. It will play a crucial role in the formation of a new government in the Centre in the next election.

The largest of the 13 currently ruling parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), has become quite weak in its political bastion, Punjab. The most popular party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has significantly capitalized upon the political territory of the PML-N in Punjab while it has reinforced its political forte in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. In the situation, the role of Sindh province, where the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) faces a serious challenge and it would become critical for the would-be majority party in the country.

At the moment, the economic, security and governance situation in Sindh is perhaps the worst in entire Pakistan. A key reason for it is the superfloods that struck Pakistan in July-August this year and hit Sindh the most. In many areas of the province, water could still not be drained. This speaks volumes about the poor governance of the PPP, which has been ruling the province since 2008 on the trot. Corruption, as suggested by media reports, is at its height in Sindh. In fact, the PPP, despite being a very strong party in the country and Sindh since its current controller and patron, Asif Ali Zardari, married former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in the 1980s, has become unpopular. Financial corruption cases and allegations of corruption have always been there. In particular after Benazir was assassinated in 2007 and Asif Zardari became President of Pakistan, and the PPP came to power at the federal level and Sindh, corruption has become a key problem of the party and its government. As media has become stronger in Pakistan with multiplication of TV channels and particularly with the rise and proliferation of social media, corruption of governments in the Centre and provincial levels, financial corruption and abuse of authority by PPP governments in Sindh has become the talk of the town.

For a long, the PPP has been portraying itself as a federal party and in Sindh it has been projecting itself as a nationalist outfit. As the party has almost been wiped out of Punjab, the largest of Pakistani provinces, as well as KP, which is numerically and politically just behind Sindh on number three as well as the smallest Balochistan province, it has been Sindh where it has won most of its National Assembly and Sindh Assembly seats. A critical factor in the winning streak in Sindh has been the party founder, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in rural Sindh and his populist politics, in particular handing over state land to poor peasants. Another important factor for the PPP dominance in Sindh has been its claim of working for provincial rights and particularly the Sindhi-speaking population. Politically, Sindh is divided into two main categories, rural and urban Sindh. While rural Sindh has for decades been dominated by the PPP for its Sindhi nationalism, urban Sindh since 1980s has been in the control of the Muhajir-turned Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), claiming for struggling for the rights of Urdu-speaking migrant communities, whose forefathers had migrated from India to Pakistan at the time of partition. Most of these Urdu speaking migrants settled in urban Sindh to exploit better economic and employment opportunities, in particular the provincial capital, Karachi, which is also the largest Pakistani city and its financial and commercial hub. The Sindhi-speaking population developed a natural dislike for Urdu-speaking communities considering the latter to have occupied the land of their forefathers. On their part, the Urdu-speaking communities have been claiming that their previous generation had migrated to Pakistan in the interest of Muslims of India for which Pakistani founding fathers created the state. Both Sindhi nationalists and Urdu-speaking migrant communities of Sindh have valid reasons to claim being discriminated against. However, the PPP has been claiming to be standing for the rights of Sindhis but on several occasions it also included the MQM in its government at the federal and provincial levels. This act of the PPP has been severely criticized by small Sindhi nationalist groups, like Jeay Sindh (various groups), Sindh United Party (SUP), Sindh National Front (now defunct), Qaumi Awami Tehreek and most importantly Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) of the spiritual house of the Pagaras of Sindh. In the 2018 national election, some anti-PPP Sindhi parties, led by PML-F, formed an electoral alliance known as Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) and became a junior coalition partner of the PTI of former Prime Minister Imran Khan when he formed the government in August 2018.

Large-scale corruption and poor governance in the Sindh government resulted in widespread poverty, critical law and order particularly in Katcha areas of rural Sindh where there has been a virtual “Dacoit Raj” and in Karachi where militant groups and street crime have kept the metropolis nearly hostage. The infrastructure in Karachi and the rest of the province is in tatters which left the PPP in the eye of the storm. On one hand, Sindh nationalist parties and on the other, the MQM (various groups) are blaming the PPP for the worst situation in the province. Above all, the most popular party of Pakistan, the PTI, which won 14 of the 25 National Assembly seats in Karachi in the last election, has decided to fight the PPP with full force. An important development that has recently taken place is that various factions of the MQM have merged. Obviously, unforeseen forces within the establishment are bringing various factions of the party together in order to deny the anti-establishment PTI as many National Assembly and Sindh Assembly seats as possible. However, the coming together of the MQM would be more of a challenge for the PPP than the PTI. With its political bastion in Punjab and KP reinforced after the ouster of former PM Khan from the government by all opposition parties including the PML-N and the PPP in April last, the PTI will only need to keep its tally in Karachi intact. In case the PTI loses some of its seats in the next national elections in Karachi, there are chances it may win more constituencies in rural Sindh. However, in order to get a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, the PTI has to win at least half of around 60 National Assembly seats from Sindh.

The PPP will also be facing another very tough challenge in Sindh as nationalist parties, which were out of the fold of the GDA, have decided to contest elections from its platform. In case the GDA forms an electoral alliance with the PTI in Sindh, it will be able to defeat the PPP on many National Assembly and Sindh Assembly seats.

Thus, poor governance of the PPP, the PTI’s steadfastness to challenge it in Sindh, unification of MQM groups and an alliance among Sindh nationalist parties would make the next elections in the province very important.