Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Waseem Akhtar will made history when he will be elected as mayor of Karachi from prison on August 24 and run his office from behind bars.
He will surely win hands down due to the sweeping numerical superiority of the MQM, which has 214 members out of total 308 elected members of the council of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC).
Waseem Akhtar is in jail for over a month, and there are no prospects of his release in the near future because he faces a multitude of heinous crime cases. Even if he succeeds in getting bail in a case or two, he will have many other charges in which he will have to secure such facility from relevant courts.
Among others, he has also been booked in seven terrorism cases relating to the May 12, 2007 bloodshed in Karachi, claiming more than fifty lives, when the then suspended Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, had made a bid to visit the city during Pervez Musharraf’s era. At the time Waseem Akhtar had presided over the home department of the Sindh government and his party was the closest ally of the dictator.
Although Waseem Akhtar was arrested before the schedule for the mayoral election was unfolded by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) after its completion with the appointment of its four members, the MQM did not change its horse and retained him as its nominee in the race. It did not read the message coming from powerful quarters.
Since the law did not necessitate the physical presence of any competitor, contesting such election, before the returning officer at the time of filing nomination papers, Waseem Akhtar encountered no problem in submitting his candidacy papers.
The next issue that will arise will be his oath-taking as the Karachi mayor. He will be administered oath only with the permission of the court either in jail or in the KMC office by an ECP official, designated for the purpose.
There will be many question marks on how Waseem Akhtar will effectively run the KMC as its mayor when being in prison. Obviously, the kinds of monumental civic problems Karachi is faced with will require a dynamic, energetic and vibrant mayor, who is not confined to jail. His physical presence will certainly be needed all the time.
However, his detention even after his election as mayor and his functioning from prison will bring no good name to the powers that be, which want to keep him interned. Additionally, it will be an embarrassment for Pakistan as well.
Waseem Akhtar was permitted to contest the mayoral election because he was just an accused and not a convict. Even after his sentencing, he would have the right of appeal to challenge such rulings. Only after a conclusive judgment by exhausting all appellate facilities, he would be disqualified from holding the elected office, a process that will take too long to finish.
Because of the peculiar circumstances the MQM is facing in Karachi, it had quickly nominated hardliner Waseem Akhtar after local elections. Its choice had not gone well in the quarters, which are busy cleaning up the mess in Karachi that accumulated over several years, rocking the peace and business activities in the mega city.
There are several instances when imprisoned federal or provincial legislators continued to hold the membership of elected forums. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chief Asif Ali Zardari is one of them. Presently, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly member Ziaullah Afridi is in prison and keeps attending the sessions of the legislature after the speaker issues his production orders.
Generally, the federal and provincial speakers oblige while dealing with the production requests of lawmakers, who happened to be in jail. Mere detention on any criminal charge doesn’t lead to disqualification of an elected office holder.