Why did the MQM fail in urban Sindh, especially Karachi? On the other hand, one could see a rise in the PTI, in those areas where the MQM has faltered. Is the electoral decline of the MQM due to the rise of PTI and TLP in Karachi? Alternatively, does the MQM fall in Karachi highlights the new power dynamics in Pakistan’s largest city, and the electoral decline is only an expression of it? More importantly, what does the electoral decline of MQM mean to Mohajir politics, and also Karachi’s delicate power balance?
D. Suba Chandran
International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP)
National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore
If the rise of the PTI in 2018 elections for the National and Provincial Assemblies is a significant development, the fall of regional parties such as the ANP, PkMAP and the MQM are substantial. For they have a crucial implication for the provincial politics, regional stability, and more importantly, for a balanced federal polity.
During the last three Parliaments, no other regional party had such an influence at the national level, as the MQM did. More importantly, the MQM played a significant role in Sindh Provincial Assembly; even more importantly, in Karachi. Though many would question MQM’s tactics, the party did play a crucial role in managing the delicate balance of Pakistan’s biggest city.
MQM's electoral decline is one of the important outcomes of the 2018 elections. Especially in Karachi. Almost after three decades of calling the political shots, how did the MQM fail?
MQM & Karachi
The Electoral Arithmetic
For the National Assembly, in 2018 elections, the MQM has polled less than a million votes, the lowest in the recent decades – slightly more than 700,000. The MMA and the debutant TLP have polled more than two million votes each for the National Assembly. Even the Grand Democratic Alliance in Sindh has polled more than a million votes.
As a result of the above, in 2018 elections, the MQM could secure only six seats directly, and one reserved seat – making its total to seven seats in the National Assembly. On the number of votes polled, MQM is the seventh largest party in Pakistan today.
Compare the above with the previous elections in 2013. The MQM had polled close to 2.5 million votes, leading to 24 seats in the National Assembly, including the four reserved seats. The party was the fourth largest then, following PML-N, PTI and the PPP.
In 2008 elections, the MQM got a similar number of votes for the National Assembly – around 2.5 million, resulting in 25 seats including the reserved ones. In 2008 also, the party was the fourth largest in the Parliament.
From 2008 to 2018, the fall of the MQM at the national level is significant. From 25 seats in 2008 to just seven in 2018.
The electoral math for the MQM becomes worse in the Sindh provincial assembly. In 2018, the party has won 21 seats, including six reserved seats. The PPP has got 95, the PTI 30 and the GDA 15 (including the reserved seats) out of the total 168 seats. While the PPP and PTI has polled 3.8 and 1.4 million votes for the Sindh Assembly, the MQM has got around 750,000 plus, followed by MMA (610,000 plus) and the TLP (410,000 plus).
In 2013 elections, the MQM has polled more than 2.5 million votes leading won 51 seats in the Sindh provincial assembly, following PPP’s 91.
The numbers clearly indicate the electoral fall of the MQM – both for the National Assembly and the Sindh provincial assembly.
Beyond the Electoral Failure:
Five Factors explaining the MQM Fall
The decline of MQM did not start with the July 2018 elections. The party’s bad show in the elections for both the National and Provincial Assemblies are a result of MQM’s political implosion during the last few years.
Also, the failure of the MQM cannot be directly equated to the rise of the PTI in Karachi. Rather, it appears that the MQM implosion in Karachi has provided space to the PTI. To make an analysis purely based on the elections, one needs more data. Unfortunately, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is yet to provide detailed data. So, one cannot empirically prove at this stage whether the MQM voters have switched over to the others or not.
What is empirically available at this stage is limited, but it clearly indicates a decline in votes that the MQM has polled. Why?
Blame it on Altaf Hussian?: The Impact of 22 August 2016
First and foremost reason is Altaf Hussain. He committed the original sin in the MQM’s context, leading to its downfall. It all started almost two years ago in August 2016, with Altaf’s disastrous speech. On 22 August 2016, Altaf started the MQM’s downfall when he said: “Pakistan is cancer for entire world…Pakistan is headache for the entire world. Pakistan is the epicentre of terrorism for the entire world. Who says long live Pakistan...it’s down with Pakistan.”
Worse, he asked his party members to target the media, inciting violence. What transpired Altaf to make such a speech one would not know; but everyone could see its fallouts.
It led the MQM to break up. The party leaders in Karachi could not defend their “Altaf Bhai”, for what he spoke. While Altaf could make those statements from London, for the MQM leadership in Karachi, it was not a proposition that could be defended. The party broke, leading to the formation of MQM-Pakistan, with Farooq Sattar taking control of the party remains in Karachi. For the MQM leaders in Karachi, there was not much of an option.
The MQM-London may remain loyal to Altaf even today, but they could not publicly support his position in Pakistan. A majority within the Mohajir population perhaps is still sympathetic to Altaf Hussain and stayed away from the elections.
Had it not been for that 22 August 2016 speech by Altaf, the MQM could not have reached this situation.
The Fall of Nine Zero
The second reason for the decline of the MQM is the fall of Nine Zero. It is not a mere phrase used just as an official address of the party’s headquarters in Karachi. It is the organisational edifice of the MQM and the sanctum sanctorum of the party in Karachi. The security forces were always wary of raiding Nine Zero. 2016 changed all that.
Nine Zero also refers to the hold of MQM over Karachi. Its fall has a larger symbolic meaning. Almost like the twin towers of the Lord of the Rings, or the Dark Tower of Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba. Depending on who views it, Nine Zero is a structure that needs to be either demolished or protected. The MQM lost the same in 2016.
When Nine Zero fell, all other subsidiary organisational units of the MQM that remained party’s pillars of strength, that could unite, mobilise and bring voters to the booth – also lost their primacy in local politics.
Nine Zero is more than a postal address for the MQM. Though Farooq Sattar took over the remains of the MQM, he could not revive the glory of Nine Zero.
The Deep State Strikes
Third, perhaps, the Deep State was waiting for an opportunity to reduce Altaf’s influence over Karachi. It all started during Gen Raheel Sharif’s tenure itself. Cases were built against Altaf both in Pakistan and in the UK. A media campaign was launched against Altaf and MQM linking both with India.
There were actions in Karachi against the MQM core. There were murmurs of disappearances in Karachi by 2016 itself, perhaps forcing Altaf to make that fateful speech.
The Deep State moved in for the kill following the 22 August 2016 speech by Altaf. The local leaders of MQM did not have an option other than agreeing to the long-planned “Altaf Minus” formula for the party.
There is enough literature to suspect that the Deep State also played a role in the emergence of the PSP. Reports hint that it also aimed at consolidating the Mohajirs vote, and merge the PSP and MQM-P; the merger did take place but lasted only for 24 hours.
There are also reports hinting that the Deep State wanted the PSP to withdraw its candidates favouring the PTI during the elections.
Clearly, there was a political engineering in Karachi before and during the electoral process. As the dust settles, one is likely to get more information on this crucial aspect of Karachi’s politics.
The PSP and the Factionalization of the Mohajir Votes
Fourth, linked to the third factor was the factionalization of the Mohajir vote bank along with the formation and the questionable rise of Pakistan Sarzameen Party (PSP).
Much before the fateful speech of Altaf Hussain in March 2016, Syed Mustafa Kamal, a former MQM leader, minister and more importantly the MQM Mayor of Karachi had formed a new party. Many allege that Kamal, who had left the party and Pakistan (to Dubai) in 2013, returned in 2016 had the support of the Establishment in forming the PSP.
For a short while, there was an effort to bring MQM-P and PSP together. Both Farooq Sattar and Mustafa Kamal agreed subsequently that the Establishment played a role in bringing them together. The move could not succeed for various reasons.
If the MQM has failed in Karachi to win seats, the PSP failed miserably. The PSP could not win a single seat. It could poll around 120,000 votes in total. Even Mustafa Kamal could not win either for the National Assembly or from the two provincial assemblies he had contested. The JuD supported Allah-o-Akbar - another new party formed months before the elections had polled more (170,000 plus) votes than the PSP!
The PSP ended up in only dividing the Mohajir votes and also not winning a single seat for itself either for the National Assembly or for the Sindh Provincial Assembly. Even the debutant TLP could win two seats for the Sindh Assembly!
Perhaps, there was an expectation that the Deep State would support the PSP and Kamal. Perhaps, the Establishment preferred Imran Khan for Karachi and not Kamal.
Outside the MQM-London, MQM-Pakistan and PSP, remember – the MQM-H? The votes polled by its Chairman that Afaq Ahmed in the 2018 elections would underline where the party stands in Karachi’s politics today. He came fifth in the NA-240 constituency and polled slightly over 14,000 votes. The debutant TLP polled more than 30,000 votes and came second in the same constituency; this would highlight the electoral reality for the MQM-H.
Farooq Sattar is no Altaf Hussain
Finally, the failure of the MQM-P and Farooq Sattar, in particular, is the most important factor for the fall of the party.
Farooq Sattar should take full responsibility for the debacle. True, he broke up with Altaf Hussain; true, that a new party – the PSP came into being with blessings from the Deep State; also true, that there were pressures on second and third rung MQM leadership to abandon the party and join the PSP.
However, Farooq Sattar should have taken the party (or whatever was left off) along. There were enough warnings in March 2018 itself, when there was a Senate election in Parliament. The MQM could secure only one seat; whereas, it could have easily secured four or even five seats.
Sattar should have immediately started mobilising the MQM after the writing on the wall following Senate elections in March. Instead, he allowed the party to further split into two factions - the PIB and Bahadurabad. The internal tussle within the MQM-P further dismayed its vote bank.
Sattar could not rally the Rabita Committee of the party; in fact, Committee removed him from the party in February 2018 for attempting to change the party’s constitution without informing it. He even resigned from the party for a short while, only to be convinced by his mother to continue.
What followed was an MQM meltdown leading to an implosion. Instead of getting ready for the elections, Sattar allowed the internal differences to break the party.
Perhaps Farooq Sattar is no Altaf Hussain.
Fall of MQM = Rise of PTI?
True the PTI has risen in Sindh, especially in Karachi; but the PTI’s rise has not happened just overnight. It has been gradual if one makes a comparative analysis. For the 20 National Assembly seats from Karachi, the PTI was nowhere near winning any of them during the last decade. While the MQM won most of the seats barring three (won by PPP) in 2008, PPP and ANP came second in most of these constituencies. In 2013, the PTI did better; though it did not win any of the 20 seats for the National Assembly in Karachi, it came as the runner in more than fifteen seats.
Clearly, by the end of 2013 elections, the fight for Karachi became two-pronged between the MQM and PTI. PPP and the ANP were losing their hold in Karachi. In 2018, the PTI seems to have taken it forward further.
The important question is, whether the electoral fall of MQM in Karachi is due to the rise of PTI. It is entirely possible, that the two are independent phenomena. The PTI’s rise could be equated with the fall of ANP in Karachi, and increasing inflow of Pashtuns into Karachi. According to estimates, there are six to seven million Pashtuns in Karachi.
The fall in MQM is rather due to its vote bank not voting, than opting out. Also because of the failure of the MQM machinery to mobilise its vote bank. Following the fall of Nine Zero, and the factionalization, the MQM’s organizational structure crumbled, leading to Mohajir voters not turning up on the day of elections. On the other hand, the PTI ensured that its vote bank remained intact and voted on 25 July 2018.
So what does this mean for the MQM?
Is it the end of the road for the party? It is too early to write off the MQM. The Mohajirs form one of the most robust backbones of Karachi’s society, economy and politics. Moreover, for the Mohajirs, the MQM is their vital lifeline.
If the fall of the MQM is due to an unofficial boycott and not due to the rise of PTI, then in the subsequent elections, the MQM can get revived, provided it puts forward a united face. One needs more data to empirically assert that the Mohajir vote has shifted to the PTI.
The larger question in this context is: will the MQM further erode? Clearly, the PSP led by Mustafa Kamal and supported by the Establishment does not seem to have made an impact. Mustafa Kamal’s political roadmap outside the Urudu politics seems to have not cut any ice with the Mohajirs in Karachi.
It also appears that Farooq Sattar is more acceptable than Mustafa Kamal. But the first preference and loyalty of the community seem to be with Altaf Hussain. How will the Mohajir politics move from here? How will the MQM succeed in mobilizing the same?
The ethnic mixture and the increasing radical footprints in Karachi would want a strong MQM as a liberal and secular balance to every day’s life.
Will the MQM bounce back?
An abridged version of the above was first published in the Rising Kashmir.
Prof D. Suba Chandran is Dean at the School of Conflict and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Indian Institute of Science Campus, Bangalore