An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on May 8, 2013 as part of a short series of profiles of women candidates contesting National Assembly elections on a general seat.
Islamabad – She maintains her signature poise, and she is not a novice in the field of politics, but the 2013 election season is phenomenally different from the previous one in 2008 and she knows it.
In Karachi, Khushbakht Shujaat of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) is on a re-election bid for a National Assembly seat. “Five years ago, we did not worry even once about stepping outside for the campaign,” Shujaat, who secured around 52,000 votes to win the NA-250 general seat in 2008, said. “I’m putting my life at stake for the election campaign willingly but my heart goes out to the public whose lives have been put at risk by the security threats.”
NA 250 is termed the “Hot Seat” of Karachi, with 32 contestants vying for it, and Shujaat up against the likes of Jamaat-e Islami’s Naimatullah Khan and Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf’s Arif Alvi, who are being billed as her main rivals. But while Shujaat said every candidate in the field is a worthy competitor, she seemed hopeful that MQM will retain the seat.
Election campaigns are to tell people our past achievements and to listen to their demands, but the violence has altered the focus of the campaign, according to her.
“People are not willing to step outside their homes because of fear, so the campaigns have been reduced to motivating them to visit polling stations and vote on Election Day,” Shujaat said.
She is confident, however, that MQM’s traditional vote bank is intact and that committed supporters of the party have only grown stronger in the wake of threats from the Taliban.
With its posh residential areas and urban slums, Shujaat said NA-250 is a diverse constituency. She claimed she helped resolve municipal problems in the area during her previous term – responsibilities which she said fall on the MNA’s shoulders in the absence of a local government structure.
Even before she became a member of the National Assembly in 2008, Shujaat was a well-known public figure because of television appearances.
She said she has always had a link with the people, first through the media and later, as an educationist. When MQM’s chief Altaf Hussain provided her a political platform, she decided to get political training from the party as a worker instead of a nomination on the reserved seats for women. “I did not want people to think I am an opportunist,” she said. “I wanted to contest the elections on merit.”