FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 42

Sindh’s significance in next elections

As nearly seventy percent of Sindh has been devastated by torrential rains and flash floods, the government of the province is almost ineffective and inefficient to respond to the grave challenge. In fact, the performance of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government in Sindh even before floods had left a lot to be desired.

It is important to note that the PPP has been in power in Sindh continuously since March 2008, but the province has been plagued by bad governance in all areas and departments. In particular, in education, health, law and order and local government departments the quality of governance has been the worst.

In the next national elections in Pakistan, whenever they are held, the role of Sindh would be critical. Whichever party likes to have a majority or a two-thirds majority, for that matter, it would have to come up with a specific agenda and manifesto to cleanse the Augean Stables in the province. In this respect, the most popular party of Pakistan, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), as is suggested by a landslide win of the party in the July 17 by-elections in Punjab, which also helped the party come to power in the province, and a National Assembly seat in Karachi and provincial assembly seats in Swat, the PTI will have to come up with a comprehensive but viable governance strategy for Sindh. For the PPP retaining its government in Sindh would be very difficult, if not impossible.

Presently, the ruling party of the province, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), is in full control of the province and its government as well as most of the district governments. The PTI has also gained strength in urban areas of the province due to the banning of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) after anti-Pakistan statements of its founder in August 2016 and the emergence of the MQM-Pakistan. The ostensible splitting of the MQM into London or Altaf group and Pakistan group has provided an opening to the PTI and to some extent to the PPP in urban Sindh. In these areas, the PPP has been steadily losing ground to the MQM for the last three decades.

The banning of the MQM-Altaf in Pakistan and the weakening of the party has also psychologically unchained the Urdu-speaking communities of urban Sindh to think otherwise. The communities have been politically and forcibly made dependent by the MQM-Altaf on the party, so that they should and cannot look to other political parties. This psychological unshackling of the minds of Urdu-speaking communities of Sindh has a far-reaching impact on the political landscape of the province. This was evident in the 2018 national elections in which the PTI won 14 National Assembly seats out of 25 seats from Karachi, which is also the largest city of Pakistan. However, factionalism in the MQM not only created political space in urban Sindh for the PPP but also for the Paksar Zameen Party (PSP), led by former mayor of Karachi, Mustafa Kamal Pasha, but they could not capitalize on the opportunity. Today, one can say that Karachi has become a forte of the PTI. Seeing massive popularity of the PTI in Karachi, the PPP making the floods a pretext asked the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to postpone local government elections in Karachi Division scheduled to be held on August 28. But how long will the PPP be able to delay the local government elections? In the last local government elections held in PPP-dominated districts of Sindh, the ruling party won a landslide victory through naked use of state power.

However, after the ouster of former Prime Minister Imran Khan in April this year, the political situation in the country has fundamentally changed with Mr. Khan and the PTI riding an unprecedented wave of popularity. The PPP, by joining the federal government with its archrival, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), to form an anti-PTI federal government, could lose its popularity in Sindh. In the rest of the country, the PPP has almost been wiped out of national politics.

It is also important that even the PTI got the second most number of votes in the May 2013 national elections from Karachi, once considered a bastion of the MQM. However, the PTI due to extremely weak organizational structure and rifts in Sindh could not maintain its new-found ground in urban Sindh. Resultantly, it has been woefully struggling to get more votes in by-elections until the ouster of Imran Khan. It may be recalled that it was the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s special bench, which during the hearing of the May 12, 2007 violence case in Karachi, had remarked that all political parties of the megacity were involved in terrorism. It especially mentioned the PPP, the MQM and the ANP. However, the list did not include the PTI.

In rural and interior Sindh, the PPP, as said earlier, is well in control. There may not be still a big political challenge to the PPP there but the incumbency factor and the political psychological factor of providing opportunity to some other political party and adverse governance could result in a doomsday scenario for the party in the next national elections. The winds of change in Sindh seem to be blowing with the PTI getting massive popularity. Discussing with interior Sindh-based journalists and intellectuals on why the PTI could not make inroads there like other provinces, most agree that a weak party structure, feudal-dominated politics of Sindh and lack of attention by Imran Khan and the PTI central leadership to interior Sindh have prevented the party from having a firm base there. Although they agree that if Imran Khan personally takes part in the campaign in Sindh, which he has promised time and again, this would create a lot of difference. Even before the 2018 elections, unlike the rest of Pakistan, where the PTI was holding huge public meetings and ultimately won, the party could not gather a worthwhile number of people and votes in interior Sindh. In fact, the PTI, if one could rightly recall, had organized a few rallies before the 2018 elections in Sindh. Much of its focus was on Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This was a grave mistake which Imran Khan and his party committed because Sindh has always been extremely important from the federal political point of view and its role could be instrumental in forming the next federal government. In fact, the PTI is eyeing a two-thirds majority in Pakistan and it has to win at least half of the seats in Sindh.

Nevertheless, irrespective of the charisma of Imran Khan, his consistent stand on the Sharifs corruption would also have its impact in Sindh. More than that, the worst performance of the PPP government in Sindh would also play its critical role in the next elections in the province. Still, in order to wean voters away from the PPP or to attract non-voters in Sindh, the PTI and other provincial opponents of the PPP would have to forge an alliance. At the moment, certain key Sindhi parties that have been against the PPP are the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F), Awami Qaumi Party of Ayaz Pallijo and the group led by former PPP interior minister Zulfiqar Mirza. The first and the last formed the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) to oppose the PPP in elections but with insignificant success. If all these anti-PPP forces forge an alliance, it would pose a serious challenge to the PPP.

It may also not be forgotten that whatever the situation emerges in the rest of Pakistan during the electioneering for the next elections, it would have its impact, although to a lesser extent, in Sindh. This time Sindh province may deny the PPP a fourth stint in power as the general aura of change in the country may also ultimately affect the province.