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‘He needs our votes’: In Karachi, Pakistan election tests old loyalties

The city has seen power shift – Imran Khan’s PTI won it over in 2018 after decades of dominance by the MQM. But Karachi’s challenges – cleanliness, sewage, water and cooking gas – remain the same.

Karachi, Pakistan – These are the fourth general elections I’m covering in Pakistan over the past 16 years. In a city where colours, music and ethnicities change from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, every one of those previous elections has been confusing.

This one has been the same: chaotic and confusing. I started the day by voting at my neighbourhood polling station. It’s something I’ve always struggled with: Should journalists vote?

Then, as I reported from Pakistan’s largest city – home to 22 seats, more than the entire province of Balochistan – on Thursday, I realised that not only was Pakistan’s democracy on trial but so too were the city’s loyalties.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party had won 14 National Assembly seats in the 2018 election from Karachi, breaking voters away from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which has traditionally dominated the city’s political landscape. With the MQM split into multiple factions since 2016, its disenchanted voters found solace in Khan’s party, from the affluent southern areas of Karachi all the way to the city’s north.

I was standing outside my polling station in Clifton, barely 1km (0.6 miles) away from Bilawal House, which is the Karachi home of the Bhutto-Zardari family, which leads the Pakistan People’s Party. The PPP has historically been the most dominant political force in the province of Sindh, whose capital is Karachi.

Yet, on Thursday, most people streaming out to vote in this upscale part of Karachi were PTI supporters, many of