LARKANA: With the passage of the new law under which district council members will elect their mayors through raising of hands — to preempt possible defections — and weak opposition, the Pakistan Peoples Party has little to worry about ensuring election of its mayor for Larkana Municipal Corporation (LMC).

It has, therefore, left analysts with only guesswork about who from among the many PPP candidates for the top slot will be able to win over the top leadership to his side to become mayor of the hometown of the Bhuttos.

Fortunately for the PPP, its only opponent is the Larkana Awami Ittehad (LAI), a nascent coalition of different anti-PPP parties and groups, which is not a position to pose a serious challenge during election for the top offices.

The LAI has been saying all along in the run up to elections that it will field its candidate and not let PPP win uncontested. LAI has a potential candidate in Qurban Ali Abbasi, former mayor of Larkana among the 20 elected chairmen of union committees. Abbasi knows tricks of the trade as he had been able to win over even PPP voters to become first mayor of the city.

LAI candidates contested from the platform of PPP-Workers and managed to grab four seats. It also claims to have support of two other members.

The passage of the new law points towards fears that internal rifts in PPP could have endangered election of PPP’s mayors and chairmen but now the party has ensured it loses no seat wherever it commands majority.

In Larkana, the party has enough seats to comfortably get its nominees elected as mayor and chairmen of the district council, municipal committees and town committees.

Having armed themselves with the of their charms, the candidates who enjoy backing of one or the other party leader are seen knocking at the doors of all the connections they have in their effort to win over the top leadership.

Sources in the PPP said that though the criteria for picking the right man had not yet been set, a three-member committee of Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani, MNA Aijaz Jakhrani and Abdul Fatah Bhutto, general secretary of PPP Larkana district, had been formed to interview and shortlist candidates for mayor, chairmen of district councils, municipal committees and town committees in Larkana division.

The committee was only tasked with interviewing, scrutinising and short-listing names for the top slots while the final decision would be made by the top leadership, said the sources.

The selection of mayor would reflect PPP’s policies, preferences and political acumen under obtaining conditions when it faced scathing criticism over bad governance.

So far, it still remains to be seen who succeeds to win the leadership’s trust for the high office. A cursory look on the list of PPP-backed candidates suggests there may be four or five serious contenders for mayoral seat.

The sources said the five PPP candidates who appear to be in earnest for becoming mayor were: Aftab Ahmed Bhutto, president of PPP Larkana chapter who returned chairman from union committee-12; Khair Muhammed Shaikh, senior vice president of PPP Larkana district who won UC-17; Muhammad Aslam Shaikh, general secretary PPP Larkana city who also heads Larkana Chamber of Commerce and Industry and returned from UC-14; Anwar Ali Lohar, chairman of UC-10 and Amir Bakhsh Gaad who clinched UC-4.

Some of them, if not all, had also paid a visit to Dubai in an attempt to have an audience with PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, said the sources.

Some were seen trying to curry favour with even Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Ms Faryal Talpur, provincial senior minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, speaker Agha Siraj Durrani and also their close aides in order to brighten their chances for being considered for the top slot.

If the PPP did not decide to separate public and party offices, the chances of which were very slim given its track record, the party office-bearers among the list for potential mayors would have better chances to win the post.

According to unconfirmed reports, Sindh Home Minister Suhail Anwar Siyal wielded significant influence in the final decision.

The overstaffed LMC is in financial straits despite the facts it executed many development schemes which failed to bring any relief to common man and provided a further to PPP opponents to heap criticism on the party. They say the party has miserably failed even to look after hometown of its slain leader Benazir Bhutto.

The city needs a savior from among the party ranks or the mayor, with the ability to rid it of nagging problems of encroachment, traffic mess, flawed drainage system, faulty development schemes and unfinished work on development schemes, which has only added to the overall mess.

Huge funds were pumped into development schemes time and again to streamline the city’s sewerage system but unfortunately the public money went down the drain. The mayor therefore will have his hands full to correct past mistakes and restore peoples’ confidence in the institution of LMC.

Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2016