The closing of the third and final phase of the Local Government (LG) poll is not only significant because it signals the completion of a the much delayed and much needed process to establish the third tier of democracy, it also offers valuable insights into the wishes of the people of Karachi, who also voted on Saturday. Barring a few scuffles and isolated incidents of mismanagement – which need to be investigated, it goes without saying -the poll went relatively smoothly amid tight security.

The official result of the poll will be eagerly awaited. Karachi’s size and diversity necessitate localized government instead of provincial control, and its varied communities offer almost all national parties a chance to fight it out. With a large middle-class urban population – less bound to rural or kinship groups compared to their Lahori or Islamabadi counterparts – the Karachi electorate is more likely to vote on issues rather than on blind loyalty. While Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain would beg to differ even he would be waiting in bated breath too; MQM’s popularity has taken a hit, to what extent, remains to be seen.

The ban on Altaf Hussain’s speeches from being telecast has damaged MQM greatly. His cult of personality was the driving force behind it’s campaigning, and without the leader at the helm, it operating at a disadvantage to other parties. Furthermore, the Saulat Mirza confessions, Baldia fire case and accusations of colluding with India may remain unproven, but they have certainly hurt the rank and file of the party. The party has also been a subject of the Karachi military operation and scrutiny by the Rangers, which it claims is unfair and disproportionate.

With the military riding high in public opinion, it has been easy for the people to pick side. How much of an impact these fairly negative developments will have on the party’s usually dominant performance will become clear after the results.

MQM’s main opponent, an alliance between Jamat-e-Islami (JUI) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), is not banking on predictable results either. PTI needs to make large gains in Karachi to establish itself as a party with the outreach to tap local voters; so far it has been routed outside some urban areas, while JUI is pushing a religious stance that is increasingly becoming unpopular.