Electioneering in Karachi, Pakistan's sprawling southern metropolis of 14 million people, is not what it used to be. The sounds of the 2013 campaign are the explosion of a bomb and the lowering of shops' shutters. There are no major rallies, because no-one knows if they will emerge from a day of sloganeering alive. Posters and SMS messages have replaced the person-to-person contact of a typical election campaign.
The upshot of the violence in Karachi, for those tasked with predicting the polls, is that there has been no time or opportunity for new or previously obscure candidates to pull off surprise wins. The status quo will be maintained, which means that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) should comfortably hold on to the 14 seats it won out of the 20 in the city, with the PPP still dominating in the city's Lyari area and in NA-258, the only Karachi national assembly seat which is dominated by agricultural workers and day labourers.
If there is to be a race worth looking at in Karachi it is NA-248, where Shahjahan Baloch of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is up against Nabeel Gabol of the MQM. The contest is interesting not because it is expected to be close - this seat in Lyari is a PPP stronghold - but because Gabol had won the 2008 election from here and then had a falling out with the People's Amn Committee, the true powerhouse in the area.
The PAC is, depending on your point of view or whether you have the courage to speak freely, either a collection of gangsters or a social group working for the betterment of Lyari.
Gabol fell afoul of the PAC and is now running in an election in an area that he is reportedly too scared to visit. This, in a nutshell, is what the elections in Karachi are about: you have candidates pretending to conduct campaigns but there are simply too many places that they are afraid of actually campaigning in.
The rest of Sindh may be less violent, but the election campaigns there are equally uninspiring. The PPP, the incumbent party both in the province and in Islamabad, had landslide victories in most rural Sindh seats in 2008, with the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) picking up a handful of seats. Campaigning this time around is essentially anti-incumbent, with opponents challenging what they perceive as the complete and utter misrule of the PPP. But the PPP margins of victory were so large in 2008 that the PML-F and Sindhi nationalist parties will, at best, dent PPP majorities without being able to overturn them.
The handful of close races are fascinating for what they tell us about national politics. In the northern Ghotki district, for instance, the PPP winner from 2008, Mian Abdul Haque, was denied a ticket because of his alleged role in the forcible conversion of a minor Hindu girl to Islam. Haque is now running as an independent. This was a case where the PPP's principles won out over its desire for victory. Its new candidate, Khalid Ahmed Lund, is unpopular within the party because he left the PPP to join former military dictator Pervez Musharraf's party in 2002, and so could end up costing the PPP a very winnable seat.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the country's main opposition party, has never been particularly competitive in Sindh, but a couple of races point to the likelihood of Nawaz Sharif's party coming to power.
In Umerkot and Tharparkur, meanwhile, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a vice-chairman of Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), considered running as an independent. Qureshi, who has previously been associated with political forces as diverse as former military dictator Zia-ul-Haq and the PPP, is widely considered an opportunist who will jump ship when convenient. Standing as an independent will allow him to keep his seat and still join the PML-N should they form the next government.
Campaigning in Sindh may have been lethargic - but power plays such as this have been put into place long before the first ballot is due to be cast.
Source: Al Jazeera