The successful conduct of elections in NA 246 by the Election Commission of Pakistan with support from the administration, Police and Rangers is a step towards electoral transparency. Considering the unprecedented vigilance, the cost of this exercise too was unprecedented. The challenge remains to replicate such arrangements in future general elections. The coming local body elections will be a trial of this ability. Being watched with interest all over Pakistan, It was befitting had the ECP put the UNDP system to test once again.

Barring minor incidents, the elections were peaceful with a sizeable turnout but fell well short of expected. The hype and furore in the media had the opposite effect on turnout. There were rumours of vote shifting in the interim, but considering the margins of victory, these had an insignificant impact.

There are many fallacies this election put to rest. The most alarming is that the winds of change did not blow. The fact that abstentions of the silent were more than the turnout indicates lack of motivation. Secondly, in a tough nut like NA 246, symbolism worked for one party but failed for the other. Thirdly, media waves do not make ingress in traditional enclaves alone. To make an impact, physical presence is indispensable. Fourthly, educated poor classes reject symbolisms of power endemic to traditional Pakistani political culture. They aspire for a true change that PTI did not reflect.

Given the votes, it could be argued that MQM had a fixed vote bank it did not cede. Other parties failed to cajole, motivate or activate the silent onlookers. Compared to the vigour of 2013, this is a concern. All parties will have to work more dedicatedly in these silent expanses if they wish to challenge MQM in local body and the next general elections.

MQM thumped home to victory with a very large margin while JI maintained its previous position. PTI fell short by at least 10,000 votes compared to 2013 when Late Amir Sharjeel, a Christian worker of PTI had bagged 32,259 votes. Other mainstream parties like PMLN and PPP did not compete. A comparison of this by election with 2013 has lessons for everyone.

MQM capitalised on its home constituency fair and square. Absent were the strong arm tactics that this party is known for. Unprecedented presence of law enforcement agencies deprived MQM of the leeway of the past. The sharp focus for the past one year put question marks on its credibility. Pushed into a corner, MQM supporters reacted by turning out in large numbers in contrast to the silent majority that stayed away.

The thumping victory of an imported candidate from Hyderabad proved that the MQM is well organised, disciplined and ideologically motivated. The margin of victory does not endorse a victory for the status quo; it is a lesson that must not be lost. This is a new leaf for the MQM. The triumph that came through the ballot must be pursued. Internal reforms can play a formative role in making the party inclusive. The MQM must shed its perception of a ruffian.

More than MQM, PTI has to learn many lessons and do its homework before it forays once again into the electoral politics of urban Sindh or upcoming local body elections.

Statistically, I disagree that this is a moral victory for PTI. To the contrary, party hard-core cadres living in this constituency have registered their contempt. In 2013, the local trio of Sultan Ahmad and Jawed Jillani led by Amir Sharjeel, conducted a muted, low budget, door to door election campaign under intimidation of MQM and absence of law enforcement agencies. Despite allegations of rigging Amir bagged 32,048 votes while Sultan Ahmad and Jawed Jillani in PS 105 and 106 obtained 31,588 votes. In this bye election against all expectations, why has PTI fallen well short in terms of statistics? Is it sweet revenge for overlooking grassroots workers in favour of big names or are the reasons different?

First, Imran Ismail fought valiantly but was handicapped. May be an element of ambition and prevailing circumstances edged him on. He was not a local candidate and teamed up with them belatedly. The PTI supporters in NA 246 had backed Nazia Rabbani, a local long-time party activist for this constituency. She had been an active member of 2013 election campaign team and understood the constituency in intricate detail. To her, living in this area was always fraught with a fear of the unknown; yet she trudged on. She was the face of the party. Her rejection surely dismayed local party cadres who felt excluded. Winds of change would have only blown had 246 fielded its very own.

Secondly, the election management and campaign team comprised hard core professionals of posh Karachi never groomed in downtown street politics. Within the internal competition endemic to the party, they ignored local activists and leaders. Had the party followed the dictum of the right man for the right job, the results could have been better. There were too many cooks with the wrong recipes. The presence of too many party bigwigs rather than fillip dampened the campaign.

Thirdly, a lack of local knowledge was a limitation. Eating nihari from posh urban areas was least symbolic. Long lines of Land Cruisers symbolised a status quo in sharp contrast to donkey carts, bicycle and rickshaw rallies of 2013 that empathised with the poor. No realisable efforts were made to win hearts and minds of a dominantly poor constituency with long, meandering narrow streets. NA 246 warranted long walks and small corner meetings in baitaks (sitting rooms) in contrast to expensive cavalcades.

Fourthly, rather than reach out to the voters with ingenuity, the misplaced priority was to challenge MQM before the public eye. The script talked out by party representatives on media was a sorry repetition. This was also evident in campaign rallies that neither debouched in the large slums and shanty housings of the constituency nor cared to focus on the contemptuously upstart areas on the periphery. These rallies were restricted to big roads and parks that led to MQM enclaves with police protection. The politically mature and silent majority watched all this; perhaps with keen contempt.

While it is left to the MQM to shift gears as a party of the future, PTI needs serious introspection. The internal house of the party needs reorder. Failure will be reflected in upcoming Cantonment Board and local body elections. The Kaptaan needs to take a new guard. Only then will the winds of change blow.