Can Pakistan Peopleâs Party come back in 2018 polls?
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) which ruled Pakistan for several years was in disarray after the daylight murder of Benazir Bhutto. PPP survived the hanging of its founder Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto as his daughter Benazir was a charismatic leader but after her assassination the party disparaged very rapidly. Her husband Asif Ali Zardari and her son Chairman of the party Bilwal Bhutto Zaradari lacked the magnetism of Zulfiqar or Benazir.
Nonetheless PPP got the breather when the names of three children namely Maryam, Hasan and Hussain of Nawaz Sharif appeared in Panama papers leak. The leaked papers claimed that all three children owned offshore companies and in this way amassed wealth outside Pakistan. Nawaz claimed that his children are business persons and did nothing illegal. Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party (PTI) Imran Khan was already opposing Nawaz government now PPP has also started opposing the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N) with the objective of 2018 general elections in mind. Bilawal started organizing the party and the PPP elected new office bearers in all the states. He also sent messages to diverse PPP offices in the country mentioning that 2017 would be a year of change.
PPP is holding rallies to earn support in the masses. On October 16, PPP organised a big rally in Karachi to memorialize 2007 Karsaz tragedy. Bilawal and several other PPP leaders including Chief Minister of Sindh also paid homage at the grave yards of unknown victims of Karsaz tragedy. The rally was also addressed by Asif Ali Zardari CO-Chairman of PPP who recently returned from 18 month self imposed exile with the intention of strengthening the party.
Asif Zardari also made it clear that both of them would soon contest elections for the parliament. The strategists mention that this time PPP would concentrate more on Punjab as the party which wins Punjab would rule the nation. Pakistan Muslim League (N) has a stronghold in Punjab province hence it rules whole of Pakistan. PML (N) through tangible efforts diminished the image of Asif Zardari and PPP that it reduced to third place.
PPP leadership is worried that not only in Punjab but the influence of the party is considerably dwindled in urban Sindh especially Karachi, Sukkur, Hyderabad where Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) is more powerful than PPP which was evident in the Municipal Corporation elections. Besides MQM, PTI and few other smaller parties are also damaging the vote bank of PPP.
The analysts claim that now the clout of PPP is restricted only in rural Sindh and the party needs to improve its image drastically, which is badly tarnished because of corruption and partyâs drift from its ideology.
Secondly, PML (N) has strengthened its base in Punjab and Pakhtoon Khawa because of its successful propaganda about its economic policies. The analysts also claim that PPP which had socialist credentials was fighting for poor and younger generation but now because of rampant corruption and its feudalistic approach the poor and youths have deserted the party.
However, the biggest problem of the party is that it lacks a charismatic leader although Bilawal has Bhutto surname and in this part of the region surname is important but only surname is not enough and at present PPP does not have a leader with mass support in Punjab, Pakhtoon Khawa or Balochistan. Hence its performance would be dismal. PPP should try to attract mass provincial leaders of other political parties especially in Punjab, Pakhtoon Khawa and Balochistan so that the following of party goes up.
The younger generation is not much concerned about the sacrifices of Zulfiqar and Benazir Bhutto. They are more concerned about the past performance of the party and economic progress of the country which was miserable. The amendment in the Minorities Act may please Islam Pasand Parties but it may not convert in votes as the voters may not be fully satisfied.
The four points agenda announced by Bilawal Bhutto against Nawaz government or his rhetoric about Kashmir or criticism of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are not attracting the masses especially outside Sindh. Recently a survey conducted by Gilani Research Foundation revealed that 68 percent Pakistanis are in favour of talks with India. Hence much anti-India rhetoric of Bilawal would also not increase the popularity of the party.
The party leaders and workers are hopeful that PPP would perform well in 2018 elections as the party high command has chalked out a methodical plan to enhance its popularity. The party would improve its performance in Sindh and the infrastructural projects would be completed soon.
PPP would also hold rallies at diverse places to increase its influence in the country. The analysts feel that as PTI and PML (N) are fighting bitterly it may benefit PPP and it would snatch seats from PTI and PML (N). PPP should also make alliances with other political parties as it lost its mass base and will have to work hard to regain the same as it will not be easy to destabilise PML (N) which has a strong hold in Punjab.
(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based security analyst. He has served in the government in different capacities and has been posted in Indian missions abroad in Washington, Islamabad and Dubai.)"