KARACHI (Reuters) - The Pakistani party that has long dominated politics in the commercial hub of Karachi won a seat in a closely watched by-election, poll officials said on Friday, and dismissed talk its fortunes are flagging.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) won just over 95,000 votes in the Karachi seat it has held for years, the Election Commission said.
Coming second in the Thursday vote was the party of former cricket star Imran Khan, which has emerged in recent years as a contender for national power, with almost 25,000 votes.
“The voters have rejected the baseless, indecent and false allegations against the MQM,” party leader Altaf Hussain said in a message to his party workers broadcast on television.
Hussain fled murder charges in Pakistan in 1991 and lives in Britain. He is on bail in a money-laundering case after British police found piles of cash in his house last year. He says the money was political donations.
In March, paramilitary forces raided the party’s headquarters in Karachi, recovering weapons and arresting suspects wanted for several crimes, including the murder of a journalist.
Hussain’s legal troubles and the raid, which party leaders say is part of a security force crackdown, have created an impression the party is coming under pressure and could suffer at the polls.
Hussain dismissed that.
“All those who for the last few months were spreading propaganda, saying the MQM’s popularity rating had fallen and Altaf Hussain had lost his grip on the party should know that the people and Altaf Hussain have a special relationship which cannot be shaken,” he said.
The MQM’s critics say its supporters run underworld rackets and hit squads in the sprawling city of nearly 20 million people that is home to the central bank, main financial markets and Pakistan’s biggest port.
The party denies that, saying it is often a victim of the violence of its rivals. It also says it is a bastion against the spread of Islamist militancy.
Imran Khan’s party is the third biggest in the national parliament but it only won one seat in the southern province of Sindh, of which Karachi is capital, in the last election.
The party’s Thursday showing was roughly the same as its 2013 general election result in the constituency.
Inroads in the south would bolster Khan’s chances in the next general election, due by 2018.
Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Alex Richardson