The PPP for the first time will be facing a different kind of challenge in Sindh. It looks more comfortable in urban rather in rural Sindh, from different political perspective due to the absence of once a powerful MQM, which now looked quite weak.
It is an unfortunate fact that the PPP's presence is being felt in Sindh only. The split in MQM has also damaged anti-PPP groups unlike in the past where MQM's 50 or more MPAs and 25 and above MNAs provided others easy opportunities to form coalition government minus PPP. This time, urban Sindh's mandate would be totally divided as the space is open for all.
In rural Sindh, the PPP will emerge as single largest party but it will be quite a challenge for Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto to gain more seats in rural Sindh in July 25 elections as compare to the May 11, 2013 elections.
Zardari is looking for around 40-plus seats so that he could play his cards well in case of a hung Parliament along with independents and smaller groups. He is looking for more than six seats in Karachi, but may get four to five which would still be better.
Split in MQM and delimitation will favour PPP in Karachi and in some other constituencies in Sindh.
The PPP has not lost a single election in Sindh since 1970 because of its grassroots-level politics, organisational network and due to the absence of strong opposition as there is no single opposition party in rural Sindh.
It has always been politics of anti-PPP alliances which posed challenge to PPP. This will be PPP's third election without Benazir and apparently Zardaris now have firm control on its politics. Interestingly for the first time, no Bhutto has been awarded party ticket from its stronghold of Larkana.
Zardari and his sister Faryal managed to bring some anti-PPP groups into the party like Sherazis of Thatta and former PML-F leader Jam Madad Ali in Sanghar. He himself is contesting from his native town and could be a candidate in hung Parliament, if PPP emerges as a strong bargaining player in the post-elections politics.
Despite these moves, the PPP will face a formidable opposition not only from its traditional opponents like Pir Pagaro’s PML-F and his Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) but also from the PTI which after joining of the people like former governor Muhammad Mian Soomro, who enjoys good reputation in Sindh, poses a challenge.
The PTI and GDA have now joined hands, further strengthening the opposition as people like Mumtaz Ali Bhutto and Liaquat Jatoi are also now part of the PTI.
Moreover, it also has the “Pir card” in the shape of Shah Mahmood Qureshi. As a result, two of the three Pirs – Hurs and Ghausia Jamaat – who have huge following, are now on one platform. However, the Sarwari Jamaat of the Makhdooms of Hala is still with PPP. The contest will get more interesting if MMA also joins hands with the GDA-PTI alliance.
In view of the new challenges in rural Sindh, the PPP leadership is trying to get maximum or at least sizable seats from urban Sindh, particularly from Sukkur, Mirpurkhas, Hyderabad and most importantly from Karachi.
The master strategist, Zardari, will be looking for at least 40 to 45 seats from Sindh, which looks quite tough but he knows he would not be able to play his cards well in the post-elections scenario without the total, if none of the two main parties, PML-N and PTI, could get simple majority or cross the 100 to 120 seats.
The ground situation does not look as good except that Karachi is now open and if the PPP manages at least 10 seats from urban Sindh, including five to six from Karachi, it can improve its overall position.
The 2013 elections were difficult as they were facing threats from Taliban and other outlawed groups, but the campaign in Sindh was not as difficult when compared with other provinces. Secondly, their opponents were too weak and the PPP had not much internal strife either.
In 2018, the PPP still has an edge but is facing opposition from their own ranks due to the leadership's mishandling and in the constituencies they had accommodated groups which in the past remained anti-PPP.
The PPP leadership even handed over cities and districts to one or two families due to pressure. For instance, in Sukkur, PPP veteran Khursheed Shah, his son and son-in-law are contesting. The other family, which was accommodated from here, is the one which was once anti-PPP during the days of General Zia. Islamuddin Sheikh is a senator, his son mayor of Sukkur and now he got a ticket for another son.
All this has caused serious discomfort among the PPP local leadership and as a result Muhammad Ali Sheikh and his family, which has hold in union councils, are not contesting against them as independent. Sheikh, once a close aide of Zardari, was picked up allegedly by the agencies in the PML-N government last year.
Interestingly, even Khursheed and Islamuddin never had good relations. On the contrary, they remained rivals when Sheikh was with the PML-F. He developed his relationship with Zardari when they were in jail.
Former home minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza and his spouse Dr Fehmida Mirza have caused serious dent in the PPP in Badin, once a stronghold after Larkana. They have now joined GDA and it may now be difficult for the PPP to comeback from here as the old PPP group of Nizamanis has also left the party.
It is also in trouble due to the revolt by veterans like Ali Nawaz Shah, in Mirpurkhas and Abdullah Bhurt, in Naushero Feroz. Zardari is particularly concerned about Bhurt, as he holds quite an influence. He even went to his house to convince him but failed.
In a bid to play safe, the PPP finally awarded ticket to Malik Asad Sikandar from Jamshoro, but as a result PPP Deputy Secretary General Dr Sikandar Shoro formed his own group and formed an alliance with nationalist Jalal Mohammad Shah. The PPP has not sacked him from the party.
Malik Asad was in trouble because of his differences with country's well-known real estate tycoon. The issue has finally settled and Asad got the ticket. This created trouble in the PPP and other loyalists like Dr Wahid Soomro also quit the party.
Jacobabad also seems to be a challenge for the PPP after the PTI managed to get Soomro who enjoyed a very clean reputation.
In the last two years, the PPP also lost some of its strongman like Makhdoom Amin Fahim and Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani.
Unlike Amin Fahim, it was not easy for Zardari to handle Makhdoom Jamil-uz-Zaman who was about to join hand with the Pir's alliance, had the PPP not handed over Matiari to them.
While the PPP is safe in Larkana, but there would be an interesting contest on a provincial assembly seat between Faryal Talpur and Mumtaz Bhutto's son Amir Bux Bhutto.
The GDA-PTI alliance now has some notable names in its ranks and most of them in the past had won their seats, but it will be a test for young Ayaz Palijo, a firebrand speaker and son of late Rasul Bux Palijo. There is no doubt that Ayaz is a good prospect, but he will face tough contest from PPP in Hyderabad/Qasimabad.
While the families like Zardaris (including Bilawal Bhutto and Faryal Talpur), of Qaim Ali Shah and Khursheed Shah, the Makhdooms of Hala, Islamuddin Sheikh and Sherazis looked safe, the PPP will be facing much tough contest in 2018 for a variety of reasons. In Karachi, Bilawal looks safe in Lyari, but it will be interesting to see his vote margin. It has generally been on decline except once when Nabil Gabol had won the seat. He is likely to get the ticket again if Bilawal wins and vacates the seat. Problem for him can come from the Uzair group like in 2013 due to which he had joined the MQM.
The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang.
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