It’s not just the cold weather that is forcing the party faithful indoors. For the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the party with overwhelming political support in Karachi and other cities of Sindh province, the number of people turning up at party rallies is minimal when compared to past elections.
Much of the low turnout at rallies has to do with the fear amongst most Pakistanis, across party lines, of terror-related incidents at political rallies. “Let us not take this as disinterest in the political process. The MQM supporter will come to the polling station come what may,” says Inayat Ali Khan, a party worker standing guard at a corner meeting in the lower income locality of Mehmoodabad in Karachi, an MQM stronghold.
Khan says that what he is looking out for are “people who do not fit into the crowd,” meaning outsiders or those who seem out of place due to their physical characteristics. One can see that the party workers are nervous and edgy. Not far from here, in October 2007, a bomb blast ended the lives of over 140 persons in a rally that was supposed to welcome Benazir Bhutto back to Pakistan.
Despite eagle-eyed party workers and back-up from police and para-military forces, the MQM and other parties are not ready to hold big rallies and are restricting themselves to corner meetings instead. “This time the party machinery is working on a more focused agenda,” says leader Dr Farooq Sattar.
With less than a week to go to elections, one would have expected more in terms of hue and cry. But, in the words of another party activist, the polls are a “thund (cold) programme”.
Despite their lack of enthusiasm, many agree that the elections should be held “come what may”. The main party banners on the streets of Karachi are of the MQM or Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party. There are a few seats that will be hotly contested, but even in these, the scales are tipped in favour of the MQM, which has been a coalition partner with President Pervez Musharraf.