PML-N-PPP ties take a turn for the worse ahead of elections
he friction between the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz continues to grow. Posturing and statements from the two parties suggest that there is unlikely to be a seat adjustment between the former coalition partners.
However, this antagonism has had positive impact on both parties and their policies ahead of the election. PPP insiders say that former president Asif Ali Zardari has had another round of negotiations with the establishment. The PML-N has, meanwhile, consolidated its position in both Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through the inclusion of several ‘electables’.
PPP leaders say Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has managed to influence the powerful quarters with his strong stance about the space being given to the PML-N. “The powers that be have reestablished contact with former president Asif Zardari. Prior to this development, the PPP feared losing Sindh as a result of blatant political engineering,” an insider says.
It is worth mentioning that the PPP had earlier been advised that Bilawal should refrain from leading the election campaign in central Punjab over security fears. Instead, he was told to focus on south Punjab.
Sensing the gravity of the situation, Bilawal launched his party’s election campaign in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as a perception was developing that the PPP might lose its hold on Sindh after the PML-N appointed Bashir Memon as its Sindh chapter president. Memon, as a former FIA senior official, had conducted inquiries against Zardari and some other PPP leaders. Later, Memon had resisted pressure under the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government to victimise Nawaz Sharif by instituting false cases against him. The PML-N had also entered an electoral alliance with the Muthida Qaumi Movement and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan-Fazl in Sindh.
Bilawal sought to counter the PML-N moves by launching his election campaign from Abbotabad, once a stronghold of the PML-N where the largest military academy is situated. Holding a convention in Abbotabad was a message to the PML-N and the powerful quarters that he would resist any plan to install a government through engineering. He also visited various KP districts despite serious security concerns and addressed workers’ conventions in Mardan, Dir, Nowshera and Chitral. In his address, he criticized senior political leaders for their shortsighted politics and urged them to give more space to younger leaders. He kept criticising the PML-N for the price-hikes during 16 months of the PDM government. The PPP leaders have also started expressing concern over the facilitation for the PML-N by calling Nawaz Sharif Ladla Plus.
However, it was not very long ago that the PPP had ousted Imran Khan and formed the Pakistan Democratic Movement with the overt help of the establishment. Most analysts and lay people consider the PPP equally responsible for the price hike during the PDM tenure.
Most PPP leaders say that Bilawal’s aggressive tone ahead of the polls will have a positive impact. They say that the powerful quarters have changed their posture towards the PPP.
On the other hand, the PML-N leaders are exercising restraint in responding in kind to Bilawal’s verbal jabs. Despite repeated questions from the media over the PPP chairman’s recent statements, PML-N leaders, including Ishaq Dar, Rana Sanaullah and Talal Chaudhry, have resisted the use of strong language. However, Abid Sher Ali has not held back while criticising the PPP leadership.
PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif started his political activities soon after returning home from a self-imposed exile in the UK. Interestingly, prior to his return, there was no trace of PML-N in Sindh and Balochistan. In KP, Ameer Muqam was the only face representing the League. As soon as he came back, electables and veteran politicians from various provinces started meeting him and joining the party. Sharif, along with his daughter Maryam and younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, visited Quetta a couple of weeks ago and met heavyweights from Balochistan Awami Party, the National Party and a large number of independents joined the PML-N. They belong to almost all major tribes of the province. One can now say that the PML-N has become the largest party in Balochistan in terms of electables.
Another objective the PML-N has achieved is an election alliance with the JUI-F in KP where the PML-N faced a leadership deficit after senior leaders like former chief minister Sardar Mehtab Abbasi, Iqbal Zafar Jhagra and Zafar Ali Shah have become disinterested in the party’s affairs.
In the Punjab, the PML-N is trying to regain its lost standing. The PPP is also trying to expand its vote bank. The silent support for the PTI in the Punjab is a threat to the PML-N. The PPP wants a chunk of that vote bank in the Punjab. Bilawal is trying to ensure that it does get it.
However, Nawaz Sharif seems to have something else in his mind. A PML-N stalwart, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The News on Sunday: “Soon Nawaz Sharif will surprise everybody by asking all political forces to work together in the interest of political harmony. He will invite former president Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto and some PTI leaders.”
The time ahead of elections is crucial: friends can turn foes and foes become friends. Adversaries can use aggressive language against each other and then spring surprises. However, after the elections, the same adversaries might become coalition partners. The same might happen after the 2024 elections. There are indications that there will be a hung parliament where no party will command a majority. The PML-N is likely to need the PPP support to form a government at the Centre. In return, the PPP might ask for its share not only in the Centre but also in the Punjab and the KP.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. His X handle: @BukhariMubasher