The PPP is scrambling to consolidate its political standing. Can it still surprise its opponents?
he Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Peoples Party are emerging as the major contestants for the upcoming elections. Recently, the PML-N welcomed over two dozen ‘electables’ from Balochistan and cobbled an electoral alliance with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan in Sindh. The PPP, on the other hand, has been unable to motivate its voters in the Punjab. It has resorted to blaming the PML-N for being part of a plan to impose another ‘selected’ prime minister through electoral engineering in the forthcoming elections. However, the PPP may just have something up its sleeve. Some argue that the party may upset the PML-N by exploiting the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s vote bank in some parts of the Punjab.
The PML-N and the PPP, recent allies turned rivals, had supported each other in 2008. They had also extended support to each other after the 2013 election till August 2023. There are several reasons for the recent hostilities. One of those is the setback faced by the PPP in the Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, where political heavyweights – who were once willing to join the PPP – have either formed their new parties – Jehangir Khan Tareen is leading the Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party in the Punjab and Pervez Khattak the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Parliamentarians in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – or have joined the PML-N. Another cause of frustration for the PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari in the Punjab is the provincial chief minister Mohsin Naqvi. Known for his proximity to Zardari, some say Naqvi has been unable to serve the PPP’s interests. Instead, some PPP leaders have complained that he is protecting PML-N’s interests.
Amir Mir, the Punjab caretaker information minister, has sought to dispel the impression saying that the caretaker government is not working to oppose or support any political agenda. “We will assist the election commission in holding a free and fair election. Then, we will go home.”
Before Nawaz Sharif’s return, his PML had very little presence in Sindh and Balochistan. Now that he is back in the country, he has started organising his party in the two provinces. In Sindh, he has not only offered an electoral alliance to the MQM-Pakistan but also appointed former Federal Investigation Agency director general Bashir Memon as the PML-N’s Sindh chapter president. This has widened the political gulf between the PPP and the PML-N as Memon had conducted several inquiries against Asif Ali Zardari in the past. His appointment has upset some of the top PPP leaders. The PML-N is also trying to attract electables in Sindh. These include former National Assembly speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza and her spouse, Dr Zulfiqar Mirza. On the other hand, it is also trying to enter into some seat adjustment arrangement with the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional and other regional parties in Sindh.
As a part of its political rhetoric, PPP leaders have started calling Nawaz Sharif ladla plus, a reference to the joint opposition’s allegation that Imran Khan was a ladla of the establishment. On November 14, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told a public rally in Mithi, Tharparkar, that this time the people would not allow a conspiracy of ‘selected rule.’
The PML-N’s biggest achievement ahead of the upcoming general elections so far has been in Balochistan where over two dozen former chief ministers, ministers and parliamentarians not only from the Balochistan Awami Party but also from the National Party, Balochistan National Party (Mengal) and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party have joined the League after meeting Nawaz Sharif in Quetta. The biggest political exodus into the PML-N indicates that the party is likely to emerge as the largest group in Balochistan in the next elections. It is worth mentioning that those who have joined the PML-N include key figures of important tribes, including Raisani, Domki, Mengal, Buldi, Jamal, Hasani, Buldei and Lehri.
In retaliation, the PPP has started consolidating its position in Sindh. Former president Asif Ali Zardari visited Ghotki the day a delegation of the MQM-P visited Lahore to meet Nawaz Sharif. Ali Gohar Mahar, an electable from Ghotki, joined the PPP.
As a part of its political rhetoric, PPP leaders have started calling Nawaz Sharif ladla plus – a reference to the joint opposition’s allegation that the then prime minister Imran Khan was a ladla (favourite) of the establishment. On November 14, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari addressed a huge public rally in Mithi, Tharparkar. He said that this time the people would not allow any conspiracy to impose ‘selected rule.’ He said that the people would have a choice of two or three parties in the election.
Consolidating Sindh might be a good move for the PPP. But its supporters in the Punjab are confused. They expect either Asif Zardari or Bilawal Bhutto and Aseefa Bhutto to launch the party’s campaign in the Punjab. However, no such plan has been announced so far.
PPP’s Sindh chapter president Nisar Khuhro, when asked about the reason, said, “I, too, am anxious about the PPP’s campaign in the Punjab. The party leadership will soon take a decision in this regard.”
Journalist Nazir Leghari says, “The PPP does not need to further consolidate its position in Sindh. It is deeply rooted not only in interior Sindh but also in Karachi. There is no way to defeat the PPP in Sindh except by engineering the elections.”
“The PPP should focus on the Punjab. I think there are some security concerns about Bilawal in the Punjab,” he adds.
A PPP insider tells The News on Sunday that Bilawal Bhutto will lead the party’s rallies in southern Punjab only. He says for security reasons, he will not enter central Punjab.
As powerful quarters are seen putting their weight behind the PML-N, there is a growing perception that the PML-N will form the next government with the help of pro-establishment parties and electables. The PPP could still conjure up a stunning strategy. It could cobble an alliance with the PTI, especially in the Punjab. PPP leaders haven’t ruled out such a possibility. PTI chief Imran Khan, after leaving Gen Musharraf, had joined the Justice Movement launched by the PPP. If the PPP does not get what it calls a level playing field, it just might use this option. If the PPP extends such an offer to the PTI, it may be irresistible for the latter.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. His X handle: @BukhariMubasher