Leadership of mainstream political parties has undergone changes. However, a change merely in the organisational hierarchy is not likely to serve the purpose
Pakistan’s mainstream political parties have made certain changes in their central and provincial leadership in recent months. However, a change merely in the organisational hierarchy is not likely to serve their purpose as almost all of these leaders remain disconnected from the masses who elect them. Instead, most of them rely on social media for their ‘mass contact’ campaigns. Almost all have resorted to drawing-room politics.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) moved away from a leftist ideology after its chairperson Benazir Bhutto embraced martyrdom in Rawalpindi, in 2007. Former president Asif Ali Zardari led the party into power politics, apparently believing that voter support does not guarantee power the way good relations with the Establishment do. The strategy failed and the party performed poorly in the 2013 and 2018 elections, especially in the Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. However, it retained relevance in power politics and the control of government in Sindh.
Of late, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has started asserting his decisions in the party. Sources close to him say he wants to take the party back to the masses – not an easy task by any stretch of imagination. Most of the ranking leaders of his party are more interested in showing up in TV shows or being active on X, formerly Twitter, instead of repairing ties with the voters.
PPP’s current secretary general Nayyar Hussain Bukhari, who has a mixed record of running from Islamabad, is a nobody to the PPP support base – or what is left of it – in the Punjab, the KP and Balochistan; and even in Sindh, mostly because he is inaccessible to third-tier leaders.
Sherry Rehman, the central secretary, information, is hard to reach even for the media.
This scribe was a witness to a conversation over telephone between the late Benazir Bhutto and Khalid Ahmad Khan Kharal, the then secretary general of the PPP’s federal council, in 2003 on the issue of appointing the central secretary general. KK, as Benazir Bhutto would call Kharal, proposed the name of late Jahangir Badr, despite his differences with him. When asked about the reason for putting his weight behind Badr rather than heavyweights like Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat, he had said, “For this position, we need someone who is always accessible to the voters. Badr is not self-conscious about his status. He can sleep on the ground while making outstation visits for party meetings.”
Currently, major PPP leaders in the Punjab, including former prime minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani and former governor Makhdoom Ahmad Mahmood, are busy in drawing-room politics. They are trying to win the support of the Establishment and the electables from southern Punjab. Qamar Zaman Kaira and Hassan Murtaza are better connected to the people. However, they too spend most of their time either in their constituencies or on TV shows.
In Sindh, the PPP leadership is not worried because there is no one to challenge them except the powerful quarters. In Balochistan and the KP, the provincial organisations lack contact with the masses.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) faces the same problem. It has installed Maryam Nawaz as the chief organiser. She has tried hard to get the party’s youth, lawyer, religious and labour wings but failed to elicit the desired response and support due to resistance from some of the party’s leaders. Shahbaz Sharif, the party president, is just not the man to run a mass contact campaign. Rana Sanaullah, installed as the PML-N Punjab chapter president because of his sacrifices for the party, has failed to deliver. This is evident from the fact that the party has faced huge setbacks in the Punjab by-elections under his watch. This is partly because Maryam has sidelined several leaders including Khawaja Asif, Khawaja Saad Rafique and Ahsan Iqbal.
Meanwhile, the PML-N which went from strength to strength after raising the ‘Respect the ballot’ slogan has fallen back to trying to cobble an alliance with the Establishment. Winning back popular support remains a challenge for the PML-N. Now that it has been announced that Nawaz Sharif will return to the country in October, many in the party hope that he will breathe a new spirit in the party. However, this cannot be easy and he will have to answer tough questions about the performance of the PDM government and the party’s choices.
Awami National Party (ANP), facing the threat of terrorism like no other party, has been struggling in the KP. ANP supremo Asfandyar Wali Khan has appointed former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister Ameer Haider Hoti as the central senior vice president, and his son Aimal Wali Khan as president of ANP’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter. In practice, Aimal Wali is calling the shots. Hoti, meanwhile, is busy consolidating his constituency in Mardan. Hoti was the party’s only member in the previous National Assembly. Aimal Wali apparently believes in mass contact via social media platforms such as X. He is often seen meeting diplomats in Islamabad, which is not quite his domain as Ameer Hoti is supposed to look after the federal capital.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has taken a new shape again after the merger of the MQM-Pakistan, Pak Sarzameen Party of Mustafa Kamal and MQM Restoration Committee of Farooq Sattar. Convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui and his deputies are trying hard to garner the support of Urdu-speaking voters still under Altaf Hussain’s influence. The MQM-P leaders are confident of their prospects in the next elections and the Establishment’s support. In the recent by-elections the MQM has lost considerable support and some of the safe seats in strongholds like Karachi and Hyderabad.
The Jamaat-i-Islami has surprised everyone with its performance in Karachi’s local government elections and emerged as the second largest party. Its ameer, Siraj-ul Haq, remains in constant contact with the people as he has been holding regular public rallies in all provinces. Hafiz Naeem-ur Rehman has emerged as the new face of the JI in Sindh but the challenges for the party lie outside Sindh, mostly in the Punjab, where its leaders will have to work hard.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher