Bye-election to the elected houses in Pakistan hardly make to the front pages, but not this one to NA-246 in Karachi. It is the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s ideological anchorage as it houses the party’s headquarters, and outcome of the bye-poll was being touted, rightly, consequential to the very survival of the party as a contender to its oft-quoted claim ‘Karachi is mine’. Somehow it fell to the lot of Tehreek-e-Insaf to challenge this claim, and the bye-election on NA-246 was taken up as a mission by the Kaptan’s squad. Given the fact that voter turnout in the said constituency was never equal to the national average, the PTI pledged to expel the registered voters’ perceived fear that keeps them away from the polling booths. This will not happen again, party chief Imran Khan pledged, and entered the electoral arena to usher in this ‘tubdeli’ (change). But as the luck would have it, or was it the voters’ decision, the ‘tubdeli’ returned from the gates of Karachi. The PTI candidate, Imran Ismail, could get even one-fourth of the votes polled for MQM’s Kanwar Naveed Jamil that was too distant a goal for it even if the PTI had forced withdrawal of its otherwise coalition partner, Jamaat-e-Islami. But that said it must be stated that with the kind of security made certain on the day of election to NA-246 the voter turnout should have been higher than what it was in 2013 general elections, even when conceded that bye-polls rarely acquire criticality of a game-changer – though this at NA-246 was. In the wake of emerging challenges to the very existence of the Muttahida as a viable political option in the national context, the bye-election to this constituency had acquired a make-or-break importance. No doubt then this electoral victory tends to raise the morale of the MQM rank and file, and its role as a stakeholder in Pakistan’s democratic future remains unchallenged.
But there are quite a few lessons the political leadership must learn from this recent contest. The natural fountain from which the parties derive strength and sustenance is the goodwill of the general electorate. Can anybody say the masses prefer chaos and anarchy that tends to obtain at the time of an election? No, the masses prefer peace and tranquillity instead of chaos and anarchy that electoral exercise – both general and piecemeal – tends to obtain. Just consider the size of security arrangements made to ensure a strife-free bye-election to NA-246. Extraordinary security measures involving hundreds of law-enforcing agencies’ personnel were put on ground to protect polling booths, ensure safe delivery of ballot papers and some 270 CCTV cameras monitoring the law and order. Was it a battlefield or a democratic exercise? And what happens after the election when the elected representatives arrive at the nation’s powerhouses – rampant absenteeism of so-passionately elected leaders sent by the people to the elected houses and when present their out-of-depth speeches. There was no justification for the contesting political parties to raise so high the temperature in the already overheated mega city. This was only a bye-election with no consequences whatsoever to the power equation now in place in the National Assembly. And if anybody thought the outcome will change the colour of the Karachi politics he should think again. In actual fact the bye-election to NA-246 has only contributed to the Muttahida’s narrative.