In dire straits

November 19, 2023

The PPP has lost much, if not all, political ground in the Punjab

In dire straits


ust ahead of the 2013 elections, to a question regarding his plan for Lahore, former president Asif Ali Zardari had told a group of senior journalists visiting the presidency that his party would extend silent support to Imran Khan who will give the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz a very tough time in its stronghold. It had sounded very strange then that a party chief should say such a thing. The election campaign that followed lacked traditional fervour and enthusiasm in national and provincial assembly elections in the Punjab. The Pakistan Peoples Party’s share of provincial assembly seats fell to seven from 82 it had won in the 2008 elections. The number fell further to six in the 2018 elections.

The PPP has lost almost all political ground in the most populated province of Pakistan. The vacuum has been filled by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf. Since 2013, many PPP members have quit the party to join the PTI. More than a dozen efforts in recent years by the top leadership to revive the party in the Punjab have proved futile. PPP leaders are in a quandary after all these abortive attempts to regain a foothold in the Punjab as the country gears up for elections.

The PPP has been irked also by the PML-N’s decision to seek partners in Sindh and Balochistan. The League leaders have been meeting PPP rivals – the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan and the Grand Democratic Alliance – to form a new electoral alliance for the February 8 elections.

The PPP leaders have responded by calling Nawaz Sharif selected and the establishment’s ladla (favourite). They have cried foul and directed their complaints to the powers that be, lamenting that they are being denied a level playing field. On Nawaz Sharif’s recent visit to Balochistan to woo the ‘electables’ there, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto advised Nawaz Sharif to “focus on Lahore” for better results.

After its realisation of early failure to secure space in the Punjab, even after it determined PTI’s chances of getting a “level playing field” in the next elections, the PPP seems to have decided to focus on its own stronghold, Sindh. It has launched an aggressive media campaign to highlight development projects completed in Sindh, particularly in Karachi, to strengthen its power in the province. It may have had little idea then that Nawaz Sharif will challenge it in other provinces by forging alliances with its rivals.

Its recent tirade against the PML-N is aimed at gaining some political mileage besides offering the PTI talks on the possibility of an electoral alliance. A senior leader of the PPP has hinted that the party is “seriously considering an alliance with the PTI to protect the party’s interests in the next elections in the Punjab.”

The PPP’s politics is in dire straits particularly in the Punjab. The party is banking on PPP’s south Punjab president Makhdoom Ahmed Mahmood, who has claimed that the party will stage a comeback in the region. Although some in the party claim that it will win more seats in south Punjab in the upcoming elections besides the support of important electables, the Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party has already won the support of PTI dissidents in most parts of the Punjab. Many electables are said to have also joined the IPP fold with the ‘blessings’ of the establishment.

Prima facie, the PPP’s chances of bouncing back in the Punjab are bleak, especially after the PTI chairman launched a hard-hitting campaign against the establishment and accused the PML-N and the PPP of hatching a conspiracy to oust him from power. The next election will be a litmus test for all political players. Whether the PML-N and the PTI remain locked in the battle for the Punjab or a new party replaces the PTI as a contender for power in the province remains to be seen. A comeback by the PPP any time soon remains extremely challenging.

The writer is a senior broadcast journalist. He has worked with several news channels in Pakistan

In dire straits