THE last time President Asif Ali Zardari was in Lahore, the PPP had as many National Assembly seats in the city as it now has in the whole of Punjab — two. On Monday, Mr Zardari spoke of conspiracies against his party; a day earlier he had hinted at election fraud with his remark about the power of the returning officers in charge of the polling stations. He said he could win an election just by having them by his side. Delving deeper into the PPP’s poor poll showing, the president listed his reasons why the party couldn’t perform well: energy crisis, the judiciary, the Taliban threat and personal tangles which prevented the two former PPP prime ministers, Yousuf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf, from campaigning. He said 20-odd seats in the election were not worth risking the life of another Bhutto.
To campaign in public or not was a sensitive decision for the PPP. But even if the party opted for caution it made absolutely no attempt to find a way around the Taliban threat to connect with the people. It left the party without a leader. Pakistanis at large were denied a choice which they had earlier exercised, regardless of whether or not they wanted to exercise it now.
Over vast areas in the all-important Punjab, the PPP had only a ghostly presence resonating in its tragic refrain about its past leaders and their sacrifices.
In line with his rather ‘journalistic’ analysis of the situation, Mr Zardari agreed with general media projections about how many National Assembly seats the PPP could have ended up with: around 60, and obviously not the number that leads to hopes of retaining power. But a bigger catch, especially in Punjab, could have perhaps helped the party avoid all these new and brushed-up obituaries about Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s invention. Without exception, the PPP’s 2013 elegy implicates its incumbent leadership in the party’s failures. Mr Zardari now regrets his decision of not giving up the presidency for leading the party’s election campaign. This admission serves no purpose other than seeking to restore to the de facto PPP head some of his old reputation as a sharp politician — sharp in retrospect. The moment has passed. An election has been badly lost and a party badly bruised. Then the focus was on the party somehow finishing its term. Now the president wants to complete his term in office. The question then and now: to what effect is it other than mere formality?