After Yousuf Raza Gilani was disqualified by the Supreme Court from holding a seat in parliament , the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had an opportunity to bring an appeasing face to the front. But they brought Raja Pervez Ashraf instead who was even more unpopular as compared to Gilani.
When asked to explain this move, at a recent brain storming session with journalists, PPP leaders said he was an accidental prime minister.
The party’s main candidate was Makhdoom Shahabuddin, who wasnominated by President Asif Ali Zardari.
As soon as the ANF ordered the arrest Makhdoom Shahabuddin in the ephedrine quota case, just hours before the expiry of the deadline to file nomination papers for the prime ministerial post, the party searched for an alternative and picked Qamar Zaman Kaira.
This alarmed the PPP-allied Chaudhries of Gujrat who did not want a prime minister from their backyard.
So PPP started looking for a third candidate. It was already very close to the deadline.
The party had less than half an hour to find a new candidate and two proposals with it.
So President Zardari, who was sleeping when warrants were issued against Makhdoom and woke up an hour before the deadline, settled on a covering candidate, Raja Pervez Ashraf.
When PPP stalwarts finished this story, a journalist asked: “If this is how you pick the country’s prime minister, are you surprised why you lost last week’s elections?”
The question led to some soul searching and a pro-PPP journalist said the “Phupi factor” had also paralysed the party, claiming that the president’s sister Faryal Talpur had too much influence in the party.
PPP sources believe that sister-brother duo disliked traditional PPP jiyalas, particularly those who were close to Benazir Bhutto, and those with some influence, like the Makhdooms of Hala, were borne only for political reasons.
Moreover the second rank leaders, who are the backbone of a political party, were ridiculed and some were also pushed out of the party, the source added.
Some insiders alleged that at one party meeting, Mrs Talpur threw her shoes at a jiyala.
Another party source said that the president also liked insulting the ‘oldies’.
During a television interview, the president asked one of his senior assistants to muzzle the sacrificial goats kept nearby or threatened to tie him with the goats.
There’s no way to substantiate these claims.
Most probably they are incorrect but they do show a growing disenchantment in the PPP with its top leadership.
The debate eventually led to the question that every PPP supporter asks, what to do now?
Every one agreed that the party needs to reorganise itself in the next five years if it wants to win the next election. And the first step they suggested by the supporters was giving Bilawal Bhutto a greater say in party affairs.
They believe that Bilawal wants to bring disgruntled party workers back to the party. He also wants to democratise the party and share the decision making process with senior party leaders, according to the party loyalists.
Party insiders say that Bilawal had openly criticised the distribution of party tickets for the May 11 elections, pointing out that deserving candidates were ignored to please those close to his father and other senior leaders.
The insiders claim that Bilawal seemed unhappy with the decision to give tickets for two National Assembly seats and one provincial assembly seat from Punjab to former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s sons.
All of whom were defeated in the polls.
Another PPP candidate in Islamabad, Faisal Sakhi Butt, got the ticket allegedly because of his links with President Zardari despite a warning from the local PPP workers that he was extremely unpopular. He too lost.
PPP supporters argue that Bilawal would do things differently, as he grew up in the West and his decisions will be based on merit.
What PPP jiyalas are not sure about is if Bilawal has the resolve and the strength of his mother and grandfather who fought against despots and brought them down?
And even more important than that: Is Bilawal willing to go through the process?
Some already say that he is not and that Mr Zardari may have to bring one of his daughters into politics.
This leads to another question: does the Bhutto family still have the charisma to bring people back to PPP? Some may argue that the days of the “khandani (dynastic)” politics are over.
May be so but the Bhutto family is still relevant, and not just in Sindh.
And the party they lead may have been weakened during the last five years but it remains a major political force and can always bounce back if it gets the leaders it deserves.
A former federal minister of the PPP, however, warned that the issue which brought his party down could also prevent it from returning to power i.e. the energy crisis.
He was of the view that while the energy crisis may continue for the next 10 to 15 years, the Sharif brothers could reduce the load-shedding to up to three hours a day, if they try hard.
And if they succeed in doing so, it will be difficult to dislodge them.