Why did the PPP return to power in Sindh with a resounding victory? What do the election results tell us of the changing political map, trends and patterns?
The PPP’s victory has come contrary to the speculations, predictions and foresight presented in the media.
It seems that the PPP has not lost its support-base rather has gained popularity in new territories across the province.
Many of those who lost the elections are in a state of denial. They can’t believe the fact that they did not win, and are blaming powerful forces for helping the PPP – which can be seen as a bit of a farce.
The verdict of the country’s two provinces is clear. The people of both Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh have brought back two governments.
In the past, the status quo in the elections has been dented only through a higher turnout of voters (Sindh saw a lower voter turnout than the national average).
New forces mobilise new voters, and that is how, from Obama to any newcomer, the hold of traditional powers breaks.
Part of the reason the nationalists of the GDA could not defeat the PPP was that the former could not mobilise its voters. The voting pattern remained the same. Even in places where the pattern changed, it went in favour of the PPP.
For example, on the PS Umerkot seat, PPP candidate Sardar Shah’s margin of victory increased by 20,000 votes against the PML-F’s candidate. In the last general elections, Sardar Shah got 35,000 votes, whereas this time he secured 55,000 votes. This shows that the PPP’s focus on the constituency has improved.
The much-hyped GDA was wiped out in the elections. In fact, the alliance performed unprecedentedly bad. This was the first such crushing defeat of the PML-F, led by Pir Pagara, in the polls. The party has never lost the NA-215 seat from the Sanghar district. The district is one of the most backward areas of Sindh, and the PML-F, despite being a part of many coalition governments as well as holding the posts of district nazim and chairman, did not do much for it. They did not even maintain the basic infrastructure. The PML-F treated its voters as mureeds (spiritual followers) who by the virtue of their loyalty to the pir are expected to vote without questioning the party’s performance.
But Sanghar has changed. Two sisters, Shazia Atta Marri, an educated woman from the middle-class, and her younger sister, Annie Marri, now a PPP senator, have broken the feudal and spiritual hold over the people of the district. This is a real change in any given society; the power of educated political women. Interestingly, the PPP has been the right platform for them to present themselves as the beacons of hope. Our utter hate and prejudice against the PPP has blinded us to other realities.
The GDA’s hype was widespread partly because the PPP had suffered some last-minute defections. At least five of the PPP’s former MPAs contested elections either independently or from the platform of the GDA. Dr Sikandar Shoro contested the election in alliance with the Sindh United Party’s Jalal Shah in Sehwan; Dr Sattar Rajpar joined hands with old rivals, the Jatoi family, in Naushehro Feroze; Zulfiqar Mirza lost to the PPP’s Ismail Rahu in Badin; and Ali Nawaz Shah lost the PA seat but won the NA seat in Mirpurkhas, which came as an upset to the PPP.
These electoral defeats may not have ended the political careers of the heavyweights but have dealt them a big blow. They are out of touch with the ground realities. Sindh’s feudal political class is in a shambles and is yet to comprehend how the politics and voters have changed over the years. Even the PTI could not help Arbab Rahim, who for the first time lost elections on all three seats, including the one in his hometown Delpo, where he lost with a stunning margin of votes. Similarly, for the first time in 28 years, Murtaza Jatoi was defeated by a lesser known candidate of the PPP in Naushehro Feroze.
So, three politically influential families of Sindh have lost elections for the first time. All three were allies of what was seen as a pro-establishment alliance in Sindh. The nexus has finally been broken. Apparently, none of these influential politicians run social media accounts. This alone shows how unable they are to keep up with the changing dynamics of politics.
While the old order is dying, in political terms, no independent candidate could also win a seat in the Sindh Assembly. However, the dangerous rise in Sindh of the vote bank of extremist right-wing parties is alarming. In some constituencies of Sindhi voters, the right wing emerged as the sole contender – securing the second position, right behind the PPP. Considered Sindh’s third force, some of us believed they could dent the PPP if the voter turnout was higher than usual. But they failed.
It seems as if the progressive and nationalist forces do not know how to organise themselves. On the other hand, right-wing ideology accompanied with a toxic narrative has gained much ground, from Thatta to Karachi and Larkana to Jacobabad. The right wing is on the rise in Sindh. The MMA and the TLP jointly got over one million votes – 25 percent of the votes the PPP secured in Sindh. Having won three seats in the PA, these politico-religious representatives will have a bigger and threatening say in the province. Given past practices, the PPP has been excellent at appeasing these forces, without gaining anything in return.
If the progressive and nationalist forces fail to prove a credible alternative in Sindh, the right wing is on the way to becoming a contender. One should not forget that in their election campaigns, these parties peddled a sectarian and divisive narrative that will remain in the minds of the people long after the elections are over. And those who have lost the elections should better stop cursing people and instead rethink how they can become relevant to the people and represent their interests. Just an anti-corruption narrative will not lead them to success.