The PPP has consolidated its position by largely delivering on its promises in interior Sindh
On the surface little seems to have changed for Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) since the last elections in 2013, but a closer look tells us its performance has actually improved. The PPP still stands third after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), but the number of its seats has increased from 34 to 43 in the National Assembly. The party has done quite well in Sindh as the number of its seats has increased from 32 to 36 from the allocated seats for Sindh in the National Assembly and from 65 to 76 in the Sindh provincial assembly. Punjab has given the PPP mandate on six National Assembly seats, while previously they only had one. In Punjab assembly they have one seat less, taking the tally from seven in 2013 down to six in 2018.
PPP was unable to get a seat in Balochistan in either the 2013 or 2018 election, but has won one national assembly seat from Kurram Agency and four provincial assembly seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Iftikhar Ahmed, senior analyst, calls it a disgraceful performance, the once national party has turned into a provincial party. "I’m still not convinced of the PPP’s performance even though the number of its seats in the national, Punjab and Sindh assemblies has increased. In fact, the current election was a race among rogues and the powerful became the winner," he says.
"It’s easy to keep rural Sindh under control by pumping in money. The PPP has done it magnificently but this trick couldn’t work in Karachi where Bilawal Bhutto met a disgraceful defeat against Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan."
Suhail Warraich, senior journalist and head of Geo Election Cell, does not agree with Iftikhar Ahmed. "A number of notables and big guns were part of the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) in Sindh. Nonetheless, GDA appeared ineffective because of PPP’s strong roots in the masses. These roots are strong because of PPP’s development work and policy for its voters in rural Sindh," he says.
"The circumstances are not the same for PPP in Punjab and other provinces. Because of several reasons, PML-N has caused the political space to shrink for the PPP since 1990, especially in Central Punjab and in South later on. Now the PTI has done the same but the PPP has still managed to get more seats in Punjab than before," Warraich says.
According to the Gallup Pakistan survey the popularity of PPP has improved from 37 per cent (in 2013) to 45 per cent (in 2018) in Sindh. Nevertheless, according to the same survey the overall popularity of the party in the country has dwindled from 17 per cent to 16 per cent. The combined survey of Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and Herald conducted in July 2018 claimed 20 per cent popularity of the party in the country, and Institute of Public Opinion and Research (IPOR) found it to be 13 per cent.
"During the last decade, the PPP has developed a mindset of controlling Sindh and putting lots of efforts not to provide room to any other political entity. This approach made it difficult for the party to open its wings in other provinces," says Asma Aamir, director Sangat Development Foundation (SDF).
"Though Bilawal Bhutto Zardari launched a good elections campaign and tried to reach out to the public, his efforts did not show the confidence that his party would be able to change the mood of the voters."
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) data shows that PPP has secured 13.06 per cent (6.9 million) votes in 2018. It was 15.23 per cent (6.91 million) in the 2013 general election. However, the number of votes in Sindh has increased from 3.2 million in 2013 to 3.8 million in 2018. In the other three provinces, PPP’s vote bank has shrunk.
"The media has never tried to explore rural Sindh and does not report on-the-ground realities. The people of Sindh have a long-lasting association with the PPP because the party is well organised there and tries to look after the necessities of its voters," believes Mazhar Abbas, senior analyst.
"PPP’s rivals in Sindh never tried to address the needs of the masses. They are always unavailable to the masses; only appearing in elections as an anti-PPP group which couldn’t convince the voters," he adds.
"In other parts of the country factors like inflexible attitude of voters towards Asif Ali Zardari’s role as party head, feeble organisational structure in KP and neglected party workers in Punjab are tremendous challenges for the PPP to wrestle with," Abbas says.
During the election campaign the PPP boasted of development in health and education sectors, roads, and water filtration units in rural Sindh.
"The reason behind the win in lower Sindh is the accommodating approach of the PPP towards minorities who hold a decisive vote bank," says Farooq Soomro, a senior journalist based in Hyderabad.
"The education sector is still neglected but lots of work can be seen in the health sector and water filtration units. From 2008 to 2013 the policy of offering jobs to party workers did really well in winning the election," he notes.
"The PPP performed well by constructing road networks all over the province which helped the agriculture sector in terms of giving farmers easy access to different markets. This development has taken place in far-flung areas as-well," Soomro points out.
The opposition parties accuse PPP for not having done anything in any sector despite being a ruling party for the last ten years in Sindh. "We accept that we couldn’t deliver according to the people’s hopes but we served the public way better than previous governments did," says Maula Bakhsh Chandio, PPP’s spokesperson.
"In addition to various other development projects, the PPP has built a number of small dams in the province which helped the agriculture sector. Thousands of jobs were created through the Thor Coal Project," Chandio informs. "We do admit our preceding governments couldn’t do much for Karachi, however, residents of this important metropolis would see a productive approach of the incoming government," he says.