By Aamir Latif
Everyone wants a piece of Karachi -- or so it seems -- in the upcoming general election on July 25.
The bustling port city and the country's commercial capital has traditionally been a stronghold of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) -- a political party which claims to represent Mohajir -- a term coined to represent the Urdu-speaking community which migrated from India in 1947 following the end of British colonial rule and partition of the sub-continent.
The party having roots in the middle-class urban population of southern Sindh province has been ruled with an iron fist by Altaf Hussain, its self-exiled leader in London, who is both loved and feared by his supporters.
Hussain could famously strike pin-drop silence in a rally thronged by thousands of his supporters at the count of 1, 2, 3.
Not long ago, his workers could shut down Karachi, with its 15 million population, within hours after Hussain called for a strike.
However, the party currently stands divided into several factions after Hussain’s ouster last August following reportedly an anti-state speech.
Subsequently, a massive crackdown was led against the party by security forces of the country, which led to the arrests of hundreds of party workers – allegedly for involvement in terrorist activities.
Its breakaway factions now include Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) led by former MQM stalwarts, and Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) led by one-time Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal.
So who will Karachi vote for?
“Karachi is open to all this time,” said Mazhar Abbas, a Karachi-based political analyst, while speaking to Anadolu Agency.
“Karachi’s election results will be surprising this time because of the recent developments,” he added.
He said the post-August events have demoralized voters and left them confused, all of which will benefit MQM rivals.
To top it all, Hussain's call for boycott will deter sizable Mohajir voters, from coming out on Election Day.
Abdul Khalique Ali, another political analyst from Karachi shares similar views.
“The infighting, weak organization, and demoralized workers have left the MQM-P in a position where it might share eight to 10 seats with PSP, while remaining seats would be shared by other parties,” he told Anadolu Agency.
'Karachi with us'
MQM-P rejects this perspective.
“Yes, we are facing problems because our party is not being allowed to run its campaign freely but the people of Karachi are with us,” MQM-P spokesman Amin-ul-Haq told Anadolu Agency, adding that their workers were being “forced” to join the breakaway PSP.
His party has alleged on many occasions that the PSP has tacit support of the powerful military, which has ruled the country for most of its 70 years.
MQM secured 17 out of 20 National Assembly seats from Karachi in 2013 elections. This time the total seats have been increased to 21.
The party initially claimed to safeguard the rights of Urdu-speaking migrants but the group has been accused of operating as an organized gang through alleged use of violence and intimidation.
It has had a checkered history of love-hate relations with the country’s powerful army and has borne the brunt of several security operations with short and long intervals of respite since 1992.
Apart from an internal challenge, several other political and religious parties are also posing a threat to the MQM’s decades-long political domination in the metropolis.
The left-wing Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf led by former cricket star Imran Khan, and the five-party religious alliance Muttehida Majlisi-e-Amal are eyeing seats in Karachi.
Abbas opines that the PPP would double its seats in Karachi but the PTI would be the main beneficiary.
Ali agrees that the populist PTI will attract middle-class Mohajir vote, which makes up 44 percent of the city’s population.
They also see encouraging prospects for the religious party alliance.