By Zia Ur Rehman
July 28, 2018
As the elections results poured in, a large number of political activists and residents gathered in Baghdadi neighbourhood of Lyari on Thursday evening to enjoy the traditional Lewa dance, celebrating the defeat of Pakistan Peoples Party, especially its young chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, from its stronghold after a span of 48 years.
Bilawal, who was contesting from NA-246, an area comprising Lyari and other Old City areas, could only manage to get the third position in the electoral race by securing 39,325 votes, while Shakoor Shad, one of PPP’s former youth leader and now a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader, won from the constituency by bagging 52,750 votes. Not surprisingly, Ahmed Bilal Saleem Qadri, a candidate of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, a newly-emerged Barelvi group that has been working among various Kutchi communities of the area for many months, ranked second with 42,345 votes.
“We were expecting these results,” said Amjad Baloch, who was watching the Lewa dance. “Especially after Lyari residents protested angrily against Bilawal’s electoral caravan on July 1, we were expecting that PPP will face a humiliating defeat this time.”
Baloch, 45, was a staunch PPP supporter for years, but this time he voted for PTI.
Lyari has always voted for PPP since the 1970 general elections, except in 1985 when non-party-based elections were conducted during Gen Ziaul Haq’s military regime and the party abstained from contesting. PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto won from Lyari in the 1970 and 1977 elections. Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari have also been elected from the constituency and most importantly, the couple had chosen Lyari’s Kakri Ground for their wedding ceremony.
Although, PPP leaders are not accepting the election results from Lyari, claiming of “massive rigging”, analysts and residents said that Lyari has in fact rejected PPP.
“Lyari has shown its loyalty to PPP since its inception but the party’s bad governance, support of criminal gangs and creation of ethnic tension in Lyari forced its residents to show their anger through the power of votes,” said Hanif Dilmurad, a journalist, who studies Lyari’s politics closely. He added that it took more than 40 years for the locality to switch its loyalty from the party.
PTI’s Shad, who defeated Bilawal, was the former president of Sindh Peoples Youth, was also fielded in the 2008 election by PPP’s dissident workers led by former MNA Waja Karim Dad as independent candidate against the party’s candidate Nabil Gabol. But after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, they could not compete with the party at that time. Three months before the general polls, Shad joined the PTI along with his supporters.
Factors behind PPP’s defeat
On July 1, Bilawal’s electoral caravan came under attack by stone pelters in several parts of Lyari, and was welcomed by women holding pots shouting ‘Pani do, Pani do’ (give water, give water) and protesters chanting slogans against the party leadership for awarding a ticket to a leader who was formerly associated with Lyari’s notorious gang.
Residents who have always voted for PPP have been criticising its performance because of its failure to address their urgent civic problems such as water shortage and unemployment, which have remained unresolved for the past several years. Lyari’s broken down roads, overflowing gutters, unauthorised apartments, unemployed youths and overflowing rubbish bins are some of the problems which the PPP leadership has been unable to address.
Moreover, the party’s support of criminal gangs that killed hundreds of people in Lyari, mainly from the Kutchi community, and the re-awarding ticket to Javed Nagori, a former MPA who was handpicked by gang commander Uzair Baloch in the 2013 polls, are also key reasons why the locality rejected PPP this election. “The community as a whole decided to vote either PTI or TLP after the PPP’s response to the community’s July 1 protest,” Faisal Kutchi, a community leader, told The News. The party had pinned the protest on rivals claiming they were trying to sabotage PPP’s campaigning.
PPP has also lost its traditional two provincial assembly seats from the constituency – PS-107 and PS-108 – not to PTI but to religious parties, especially the Jamaat-e-Islami and TLP.
From PS-107, TLP candidate Muhammad Younas Soomro won the seat by securing 26,248 votes, while PTI’s Muhammad Asghar Khan ranked second by securing 15,915 votes. PPP’s candidate Nagori bagged 14,309 votes.
Similarly, JI’s Abdul Rasheed, who was contesting under the umbrella of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, won PS-108, defeating PPP’s candidate Abdul Majeed Baloch.
Although progressive activists are worried about the shifting of Lyari voters toward religious parties, analyst believes that they voted for such parties in reaction to PPP’s local policies.
According to Dilmurad, in PS-108, instead of voting for Shah Jahan Baloch, a former MNA with ties to gangs, the residents chose Rasheed, a local JI leader who has good reputation in Lyari for his welfare work, especially installing water filter plants and resolving other issues. He added that in PS-107, the Kutchi community, which suffered badly in gang violence, preferred to vote for TLP instead of PTI.