Much before the next general elections in the country – which have been tentatively scheduled for mid-2018 – the PPP has returned with many surprises. Last week, it has once again welcomed within its ranks three parliamentary stalwarts who had left the party following differences with the same leadership.
The party, it appears, is showing flexibility and trying to readjust its renewed mode of power politics. It is embroiled in compromises and bargains with leaders who want to rejoin the party ranks across the country. Asif Ali Zardari’s return to the country after over a year in self-exile has also prompted seasoned parliamentarians – who had deserted the party a few years ago – to reenter the party’s fold. Many of them have been reportedly assured that they can retain their elected seats. They have all been promised better prospects in the changing political realities.
Hakeem Baloch, Faisal Saleh Hayat, Nabil Gabol and Khalid Lund – who were once the PPP’s diehard loyalists – have joined the party following meetings with Zardari. The differences which had prodded them to leave the party in the past have now been ironed out. Having felt the pulse of the changing political temperatures, these politicians decided that it would be better to rejoin the PPP instead of languishing in the political wilderness. As the elections draw closer, the lack of clarity in terms of seat adjustments and the political give-and-take may intensify.
Asif Ali Zardari is undoubtedly an old player of power politics that revolves around compromises and adjustments in a typical Pakistani context. He knows how and when to hit and melt an iron. During the previous elections, Zardari missed those hits as he assumed the role of president – which is both an apolitical and symbolic role. This time around, he has announced his plans to contest elections on a general seat for himself. He also announced his son’s decision to enter parliament – which was much overdue as Bilawal turned 25 two years ago and, as per a mandatory requirement, is eligible to become a member of parliament. Before entering parliament, Zardari needs more than the number of seats that the PPP currently has at hand.
To achieve this, he plans to earn more wickets than the PTI. Nadir Akmal Leghari from Ghotki also met Zardari last week and joined the PPP. A rumour is also doing the rounds that Shah Mehmood Qureshi – who was once a diehard PPP loyalist – is as also being seen by the PPP as a possible re-entry.
What does the PPP want to achieve by encouraging leaders to rejoin its ranks? All these electoral heavyweights and winning horses can earn the party more seats. With a better number of seats, it can re-position itself in Islamabad with any possible alliance and block any chances that the PTI or the PML-N have to assume public office. The PPP could also add smaller political forces within its fold – which Asif Zardari successfully managed to do from 2008 to 2013, before suffering a terrible defeat in the general elections.
For the PPP, an electoral defeat was nothing that was unknown. It encountered the same humiliating defeat two decades ago in 1997. But the party managed to regain its lost ground gradually in 2002 and finally entered the PM House in 2008 after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. This time around, the party is finding it difficult to regain lost ground and has resorted to more constituency-based bargains by encouraging all possible winning horses throughout the country to join them. The PPP, however, has to concentrate on maintaining a firm ground in Punjab – and also in KP and Balochistan where its practically non-existent position has favoured other forces.
Zardari is also encouraging party workers to meet politicians, such as Irfanullah Marwat, who were once loathed by the PPP. As expected, when news spread that Marwat had joined the party, Zardari’s daughters openly rebelled against the decision.
Before Marwat, two MPAs of the PML-F – Imtiaz Shaikh and Jam Madad – joined the PPP and earned the same seats. Both the PML-N and PML-F – who had considerable representation in the Sindh Assembly – are fast crumbling. Similarly, several anti-PPP families – from the Jamotes of Matiari to the Phulpotos of Khairpur – also jumped on the bandwagon. More announcements have yet to come, as per the claims of insiders within the PPP. The PML-F now consists of a few MPAs who have few options or political ambitions they can pursue. However, the party was a major threat to the PPP during the 2013 general elections, as it opposed the latter in nearly all constituencies – either independently or through an alliance with anti-PPP forces in rural Sindh.
With electoral heavyweights rejoining the party, the PPP has added to its electoral strength in its home-ground – Sindh – where the MQM is already in a state of disarray and chaos. Its factions are engaged in a tough fight with each other to succeed in the next elections. Taking advantage of this, the PPP also plans to retain some of its lost seats which were either encroached or bargained with the MQM as an indirect ally. Both the PML-N and PML-F have already crumbled politically. The PTI seems lost in its own direction.
In the absence of a viable political alternative in Sindh, the PPP is likely to regain and retain even some of its seats which it lost in the previous elections and emerge as an absolute force. However, the party’s real test will begin when it crosses Sindh and enters Punjab. Anyone who wins Punjab, governs in Islamabad.
The writer is an Islamabad-based
anthropologist and analyst.