PPP eyes federal government

March 27, 2022

Satisfied with its performance since 2018, the party fancies its chances

PPP eyes federal  government

Irrespective of whether the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan is carried or defeated, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) looks forward to better days ahead. It has taken the lead in striking decisively against the government and currently sees itself riding a wave of popularity many of its own leaders and workers had not anticipated only a few months ago. After leading the ‘longest long march in the country’s history’ and spearheading the no-confidence move against Khan, it is clearly at the forefront of opposition’s movement against the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). Should the trends continue, there is a feeling, come general elections, it will be the chief beneficiary of the anti-PTI sentiments and the political struggle waged by the joint opposition. The party leaders hope that all talk of rampant corruption, bad governance and lawlessness on its watch will be soon forgotten and it will regain what used to be its strongholds across the country, especially in the Punjab and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“Zardari, the seasoned captain, has guided the PPP’s ship safely through tumultuous waves, resolutely protecting its main asset – the provincial government in Sindh - besides recovering some of the lost ground in Karachi and the Punjab. A few years ago this had appeared to be an impossible task,” says Faizan Bangash, veteran journalist and PPP watcher.

Zardari’s skillful manoeuvring has held the PPP reap the maximum out of the widening gulf between the establishment and the government. He has shown a great sense of timing in making his moves, not paid undue heed to allegations of corruption and lawlessness in Sindh and helped the party come from behind to mobilise the masses against the prime minister. The smart combination of long march and no-confidence motion not only surprised many analysts but also proved the toughest challenge Khan had ever faced. It took him off guard and visibly unnerved him. His utter loss of cool and use of un-parliamentary language against the political opponents has been seen as unbecoming of his office. The prime minister’s chagrin at the professed neutrality of the powers that be has been astonishing and counterproductive.

Looking back, it would seem that faced with the PTI challenge Zardari has consistently played his cards well. He resisted the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s demand for resignations from the parliament even when that meant parting ways with his opposition allies. In the end he was able to bring the PDM parties round to supporting his strategy. Imran Khan thus found himself cornered, facing a no-confidence motion at a time when his popularity was at a low ebb and resentment among PTI parliamentarians at its peak.

No wonder Imran Khan has marked Zardari as his enemy number one and deserving of being targetted if he survives the no-confidence motion.

“In contrast to leaders of some other mainstream parties, Zardari has learnt his lessons well. He has learnt from the death of his wife Benazir Bhutto and during his days in the presidency. He never let his relations with the powerful establishment go bad. Despite being in the opposition since 2013 he has kept the back street connections alive,” says Hasan Murtaza, the PPP parliamentary leader in Punjab Assembly. Murtaza says that despite losing grounds in the Punjab to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the PPP had always retained some pockets of support in the south. He conceded that the central and north Punjab are the PML-N strongholds. After the long march, he sees the PPP making a comeback in central and north Punjab as well. “The Punjab has again opened its arms for the PPP. The coming elections could be a repeat of the 2008”, says Murtaza.

“The PDM is a brain child of Zardari-Bilawal, although it required approval by Nawaz Sharif. Zardari went to meet Sharif in Kot Lakhpat jail to materialise the idea. Their agreement did not mention resignations from assemblies. Later, the PML-N agreed to Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s proposal of tendering resignations to make the parliament ineffective and non-representative. That was when the PPP parted ways with the PDM. This allowed Zardari to focus his energies on strengthening the party and earning the tag of “B-team of establishment”,” says Gauhar Butt, a veteran parliamentary journalist.

Butt says Imran Khan must not forget that he too was once a beneficiary of Zardari’s “art” of political manoeuvring. It was Zardari who executed a “coup” against the PML-N government of Balochistan before 2018 polls without having any electoral strength to boast off. Zardari manoeuvred with ‘other’ forces and helped create the Balochistan Awami Party whose members would later vote for Imran Khan in the election for prime minister.

The PPP has been gaining strength in Sindh after the PTI came to power. It has won 11 of the 15 by-polls held in Sindh over the last three and half years, points out Faizan Bangash. “The PPP won both National Assembly and Senate seats vacated through disqualification of Faisal Vawda. Zardari’s biggest success has been in not allowing any king’s party in Sindh to make a dent in support for the PPP while the PTI has been claiming ‘wickets’ in the other three provinces,” he adds.

Bangash sees a bright future for the PPP in the Punjab in near future. He says it could very well be the ruling party in Centre following the 2023 polls. He recalls that in the recent by polls in NA-133 Lahore, the PPP candidate bagged 35,000 votes against PML-N’s Shaista Pervaiz’s 45,000.

Both Bangash and Murtaza predicted that once the PTI is out of power, a majority of its ‘electable’ candidates in the Punjab will join the PPP, following the lead of Nadeem Afzal Chan.

When Asif Zardari supported Sadiq Sanjrani of the BAP for Senate chairman, some analysts explained his choice in terms of getting even with Sharif for his government’s actions against PPP members including Zardari’s close aide Dr Asim Hussain. The PPP was also instrumental in defeating the no-confidence motion against Sanjrani despite a clear opposition majority in the Senate. Prime Minister Imran Khan was an indirect beneficiary of these manoeuvres.

Zardari later caused great frustration to Khan by pulling off the election of Yusuf Raza Gillani as a senator from Islamabad despite a PTI majority in the National Assembly.

When Gillani later contested the election for opposition leader in the Senate, the PML-N was left complaining.

Many in the PTI have always feared Zardari’s closeness to the Chaudhris of Gujrat. The PPP is also said to be in informal contact with the MQM-P leadership.

The writer is a senior   political reporter at   The News International

PPP eyes federal government