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Three factors cause PPP’s downfall

When the Pakistan People’s Party celebrates its 48th Foundation Day next month, there will be little to cheer after what it did since 2013 general elections.The party has now constituted a committee to look into the causes, which is an uphill task without addressing at least three major factors, which

By Mazhar Abbas
October 21, 2015
When the Pakistan People’s Party celebrates its 48th Foundation Day next month, there will be little to cheer after what it did since 2013 general elections.
The party has now constituted a committee to look into the causes, which is an uphill task without addressing at least three major factors, which led to its downfall and look for way forward to regain its lost popularity.
In the post-Benazir Bhutto, the PPP lost its direction, philosophy and with the change in political behavior it practically became a private limited company. Therefore, to convert it back to political party, it needs a complete overhaul. The PPP’s strength has always been peasants, trade unions, students, minorities, women and civil society. All these segments today are disappointed with it. Since it has been tested in the past, it has also lost the confidence and it will be a huge task to regain it.
(1) Leadership crisis: Late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was among Pakistan’s most charismatic leaders, who had ruled the minds of the people for almost four decades and even after his execution, the PPP won three general elections on “Bhutto factor.” He was made a “horrible example,” but his popularity graph remained intact even after his death.
Bhutto groomed Benazir Bhutto, but to her credit she developed herself as a national leader through struggle. But somehow BB lost her way and missed the opportunity to strengthen the party. She took power in 1988, on establishment’s terms despite massive support of the masses. The establishment never accepted her and she twice lost power due to conspiracies like Mehran Bank. Finally, she had fallen in the NRO trap and returned despite most serious threats to her life.
One of the liveliest political chapters of our charred political history ended when she was assassinated on December 27th, 2007. Like her father, she was on the peak of her popularity when she died.
Her assassination brought an end to charismatic leadership in PPP and in the absence of any experienced Bhutto we saw a shift from Bhutto to Zardari through a “controversial Will.” Had the party nominated Senior Vice-Chairman Makhdoom Amin Fahim as Acting Chairman till Bilawal Bhutto or the two daughters grown up, a new chapter in PPP politics would have made it more democratic.
(2) Presence of Zardari factor: Zardari family traditionally always has “love-hate” relationship with Bhuttos. Late Hakim Ali Zardari was once close to Bhutto, but later joined the defunct National Awami Party (NAP). His son Asif Ali Zardari during his college days was not active in politics nor was he interested. Therefore, when Benazir decided to get married to him, it surprised many including some of her close friends. The couple got married in 1987.
Many thought he would not be active in politics but slowly and gradually he made inroads and within few months after the PPP’s first government, stories of corruption started coming out in the media.
During this period some of his college day friends started getting prominent positions like Javed Pasha, Dr Asim, Zulfiqar Mirza and many others. Except for Mirza, other hardly had any political background. It was the beginning of commercializing PPP and changed its political behavior. All this tarnished the image of BB and her government and she looked completely helpless.
To his credit Zardari spent several years in jail and faced charges from corruption to murder. He also succeeded in ensuring his government’s full term in office, but could not improve his image and in the end led to the PPP’s worst defeat in 2013. His image of Mr. 10 Per Cent or Mr. Cent Percent caused colossal damage to the party.
Benazir and Zardari had different views about lawyer’s movement and over support to Iftikhar Chaudhry. He played an important in the NRO, and influencing BB to reach an understanding with Musharraf so that early elections be held.
After BB’s murder, Zardari got complete control over the party, but had he implemented the accord he had signed with Nawaz Sharif over restoration of deposed judges and power sharing, it would not only have helped the PPP but also Zardari in building his image.
Some people in the PPP claimed that Zardari had saved the party from breakup after disappearance of Benazir from the scene. It is Zardari’s strategy that has kept the party intact till now, they said.
These PPP people also said that Zardari had given sacrifice by giving up his powers under the 18th Amendment. He thus made the federation strong and paved the way for provincial autonomy. This, they said, was an historical decision by Zardari that strengthened democracy and the country.
They said by completing five-year tenure of the government for the first time, Zardari had set a good precedent and defeated the undemocratic forces. He also taught others how to do politics, they said.
Zardari, they said, played vital role in saving the Nawaz government from certain collapse by siding with the democratic government when attempts were being made to topple it. This was a big contribution of Zardari towards democracy in the country.
As for as corruption charges are concerned, they said, there are many people in this country, particularly Zardari, who are facing such charges. They said if Zardari had committed corruption, it would have been proved through courts during the Musharraf regime. Zardari, they said, is a mere victim of baseless propaganda.
They also claimed that the PPP downfall is just a temporary phase and such ups and downs are part of politics.
What is alternative to Asif Ali Zardari?
Bilawal Bhutto: One feels sorry for him, as unlike his mother he did not get the party. Secondly, his grooming was quite different the way Bhutto groomed BB. So, if Bilawal stands any chance he has to establish himself and tried to come close to his mother, if not to his grandfather.
He has to come on his own and to launch “operation clean up” against corruption, but from the top.
So far, his three launches have failed and his opponent always sees him as mere dummy in the presence of Mr. Zardari.
(3) Bad governance and corruption: The PPP record in governance is one of the worst but the “tag of corruption” has destroyed its image. It has changed its political behaviour and whenever given chance it failed to bring major reforms, which could have strengthen its roots.
It is so unfortunate that the PPP during its five years could not set examples of “good governance.” On the contrary, its perception as the most corrupt government got stronger in the last few years because of Mr. Zardari and the other top leadership also faced criticism.
Zardari lost first two years of his government in confronting Nawaz Sharif and Iftikhar Chaudhry. As a result, the PPP lost popularity which at that time was with the former CJP.
Remember, Imran’s rise also came during the lawyers’ movement. Thus, due to bad decisions the government remained in turmoil in the last two years and in the end the PPP government restored judges, but not before it imposed the Governor’s rule in Punjab, which again proved counter-productive.
Thus despite having complete control over the government and having the offices of president, PM, Speaker NA and Chairman Senate, the PPP could not deliver. On the one hand, the PML-N exerted pressure on the government, on the other after what Mr. Zardari did to deposed judges, the PPP government faced serious charges of corruption.
It is true that had Taliban threat factor not been there, the PPP still could manage some seats in the KP and Punjab, but the party almost surrendered. Secondly, had it really delivered and set some good examples, results would have been much better.
Even in the last two and half years, the PPP could have set some examples of good governance in Sindh like Shahbaz Sharif did in Punjab and Pervez Khattak in KP despite criticism of their policies.
Is there a way forward? In the present of a third option like the PTI, which also has a charismatic and untested leader, Imran Khan, it would not be easy for the PPP. Yet, it can still look for space by giving a new political philosophy based on Bhutto’s vision and today’s ground realities.
The party can reorganize itself from ward to district and from district to division level and these must be given importance unlike in the past. The party must get rid of corrupt leaders, which is a difficult decision but it had to be taken for revival.
It will be a big task for PPP to bring back committed workers in its fold. Zardari factor can’t bring them but Bhutto factor can, provided the party comes out with a plan and a programme.
The present Central Executive Committee and provincial bodies should be disbanded and the party needs to democratize itself. Zardari can pay the way for Bilawal if he steps down.
The new look PPP with a progressive programme can challenge the PML-n and PTI, but in the next two years before the general elections they have to bring about a “mini revolution” of good governance in Sindh, where the PPP still has the space to prove.
History would always remember Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as Pakistan’s most dynamic leader and in the words of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan as a “true nationalist.” He would have never dreamt his successors would bring his party to the bottom.
The writer is the senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.