Karachi, the capital of Sindh province, is Pakistan’s largest city. It is also considered to be the most diverse and cosmopolitan region in the country and the “Economic Hub of Pakistan”. Until the middle of the 19th century, Karachi was an insignificant fishing town with an obscure history. The British annexed it in 1843 and turned it into an important port city. The British also detached Karachi from the rest of Sindh and included it in the so-called “Bombay Presidency”. By the beginning of the 20th century, Karachi had become a thriving city dominated by businessmen and traders. In 1936, the city was re-incorporated into Sindh.
Until the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the Sindhis were the largest ethnic group in the city. However, when the city became the federal capital of the new state, it was again separated from Sindh. Karachi’s once-robust infrastructure came under enormous strain as it witnessed the influx of millions of Urdu-speaking Muslims (“Mohajirs”) from India. Until 1951, the city had a Mohajir majority. It ceased to be the capital of Pakistan in 1959. In the 1960s, the city witnessed extensive industrial activity. This attracted fresh migrants, mostly Pakhtuns from the NWFP (present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).
From the 1970s to the early 1980s, the city’s electoral politics were dominated by Jamat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP). Both were largely supported by the city’s Mohajir population. During the Ziaul Haq dictatorship (1977-88), the local administration of Karachi fell into the hands of the JI. During this period, the city witnessed violent ethnic upheavals. Thus the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) was born. The party proactively distanced the Mohajirs from Islamist parties and began to form “Mohajir nationalism”.
From 1988 to 2013, the MQM dominated the city’s electoral politics. But since 2016, the MQM has started disintegrating. By then, the population of Mohajir had dropped to 42%. The space created by the split was first filled by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
During the 2018 elections, PTI won 14 NA seats from the city. Four were won by the MQM and three by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Urban Pakhtun voters overwhelmingly voted for the PTI. And so are many Mohajir voters. However, Karachi was also one of the first cities in the country where PTI’s support began to decline. PTI has been extremely weak in conducting electoral politics. With the MQM weakened and the euphoria of the ‘PTI wave’ waning fast in 2018, the PPP has come up with a new strategy for Karachi.
The party has ruled Sindh since 2008, largely due to its electoral strength in the province outside Karachi. The PPP-led Sindh regime has decided to invest additional resources in Karachi, particularly in the city’s multi-ethnic districts. On the other hand, JI saw the weakening of the MQM and growing public disenchantment with the PTI as an opening through which the party could plot a return to Karachi. PPP and JI focused on constituency politics, which paid off handsomely. In a close contest, the PPP defeated the JI in the 2023 local body elections in the city. The MQM (now MQM-Pakistan) boycotted the elections.
Since the number of voters, even with low voter turnout, is much larger compared to the sample sizes used in the surveys, we can use the voting patterns of the 2023 local elections to determine how likely Karachiites are to vote in the February 8 general election. . I used this in addition to interviews with some PPP, JI and MQM-P workers to form the assessment.
Karachi is divided into seven districts. Central District, Eastern District, Western District, Southern District, Korangi District, Kemari District and Malir District. About 9.5 million people will cast their vote in these districts.
This district is the largest and one of the most populous. About 70% of its population are Mohajirs. Until 2013, it was a stronghold of the MQM. In 2018, however, out of the four NA seats in this district, MQM and PTI won two each. This shows that a significant section of Mohajir voters cast their vote to PTI.
During the 2023 local elections here, which were boycotted by the MQM-P, the JI managed to attract the highest number of Mohajir votes in the district. JI is now hoping to win NA seats from this district on February 8. But with the MQM-P returning to win back its voters, Central Central is likely to witness a tough three-way fight between JI, MQM and PTI-Independents.
JI, however, is worried that the large Mohajir vote in this district will be split between the three parties. MQM-P is also aware of this but hopes to win back a large chunk of voters who decided to vote for PTI in 2018.
Likely outcome: MQM-P can eliminate independent JI and PTI in this district, but due to the division of Mohajir votes here, the votes of smaller ethnic communities in the district can work in favor of independent JI and PTI. PPP has a weak vote bank in this district.
This district is multi-ethnic with a slight majority of Mohajirs. It also has a sizeable Pakhtun, Punjabi and Sindhi population. In 2018, PTI won all four NA seats from this district. But in the local body elections, majority of Mohajir votes in this district were given to JI. Non-Mahajira votes mostly went to the PPP.
Likely outcome: A close contest is expected here on February 8 between PPP, JI and MQM-P. JI and PPP won 19 and 15 seats respectively in the local body elections from this district, while PTI was defeated. Now it will be interesting to see what impact MQM-P participation will have in this district. Both the JI and the PPP believed they had made inroads into this former MQM stronghold, but the MQM-P will contest this claim.
The PPP will count on the votes of the non-Mohajir communities in the district, especially the Pakhtun who voted for the party in the local body elections after defecting from the PTI. PTI-Independents will be hoping to win back Pakhtun and Mohajir vote lost to JI and PPP in 2023.
This district has a majority of Mohajors (50%), but also a significant Pakhtun community. In 2018, it consisted of five seats in the DZ. PTI got three, and MQM-P and PPP got one each. However, during the local body elections, the PPP won a majority here with some solid constituency politics. She got not only Sindhi votes but also majority of Pakhtun district votes.
Likely outcome: The MQM-P will look to revive its influence here among the Mohajirs of the district, whose votes are likely to be split between the party, JI and PTI-Independents. The PPP hopes to win up to three seats here if it maintains the support it got from Pakhtun district voters in 2023.
It is a completely multi-ethnic district. It includes some of the most affluent areas of the city as well as large working-class enclaves. In 2018, both NA seats were won by PTI. However, during the local body elections, the PPP won a clear majority here, mainly because of the votes it received from the (non-Mahajira) working class voters in the district.
Likely outcome: The PPP is expected to win at least two of the now three seats in South District. The independent PTI is likely to find votes in the affluent areas of the district, but there are concerns that some of those votes may also go to prominent independent candidate Jibran Nasir.
This division may favor public-private partnerships. MQM-P will aim to win back its Mohajir votes in this district but will fight with the independent PTI for Mohajir votes after PTI lost its Pakhtun votes here. JI is weak in this district but counting on Mohajir votes.
Malir has a slight Sindhi majority. In 2018, two out of three NA seats went to the PPP and one to the PTI. The PPP defeated Malir during the local body elections in 2023. He also managed to attract the votes of the Pakhtun district.
Likely outcome: Malir district is likely to witness a PPP review.
Korangi District has a majority of Mohajirs. It was once a stronghold of the MQM. In 2018, MQM-P won two of the three NA seats in the district, while PTI won one. However, during the local body elections, JI won a clear majority in this district.
In 2018, the far-right Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) won a large percentage of votes here, although it failed to win a NA seat. The TLP, which mostly attracts lower-middle-class Mohajir votes in Karachi, may once again cause problems for the MQM-P, although the MQM-P is confident of winning back its lost voters in this district.
Likely outcome: The main contest in Korangi will be between MQM-P, PTI-Independents, TLP and JI. It will be interesting to see how much the TLP can ‘spoil’ the MQM-P and JI votes. PPP is weak in this district.
This district is multi-ethnic. It was founded in 2020 and has two NA headquarters. The PPP won the local body elections in the district.
Likely outcome: The PPP is likely to win here in the upcoming general elections with the help of the working class Pakhtun and Sindhi voters of the district.
The PPP is expected to win six to eight NA seats in Karachi. MQM-P, between four and six. JI is between two and three. And PTI-Independents between two and four seats.
The PPP and JI campaigns are focused on constituency politics, which helped them win the local body elections.
The MQM-P is trying to revive its Mohajir nationalist vote bank, while the PTI is trying to weed out the ‘favor vote’ due to the crackdown it is facing after the party’s violent rampage on May 9-10 last year.
But Karachi is not a “sentimental” city. Any ‘vote of favour’ for the PTI in Karachi is likely to come from some segments of the middle and upper middle class Mohajirs.