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LAHORE: The PPP seems in disarray as its leaders are at variance about the party’s dismal performance in the momentous NA-120 by-poll.

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is clearly indignant at the party performance in last Sunday’s election but so are leaders in Punjab who want Bilawal “to wake up to the ground realities especially in Lahore and central Punjab where the party has been reduced to pockets.”

They now see southern part of PPP as the last hope to salvage its pride in the 2018 election.

PPP candidate Faisal Mir, who secured 1,414 votes in an otherwise hotly contested by-election, declared Sept 17 a black day when “rightist forces emerged stronger and progressive and liberal force in the form of PPP lost.” But he also admitted that the PPP needed to work hard to reach out to the masses.

Bilawal on Tuesday contacted the party’s Punjab leaders and sought report on the disappointing performance in the constituency where Begum Kulsoom, wife of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, won by bagging more than 61,000 votes. Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Dr Yasmin Rashid lost with a margin of 14,000 votes -- something which analysts believe is a cause of concern for the PML-N as well.

“Neither Bilawal nor Mr Zardari chose to hold a single rally or public meeting in Lahore during the whole election campaign. How come he suddenly realises that the PPP has been trounced,” a senior PPP leader from Punjab told Dawn on Tuesday.

“The fact is the party is paying the price for its last four year’s friendly politics towards the PML-N. We have already conceded much of our ground in central Punjab to Imran Khan’s PTI. If there was any chance for the PPP to stage a comeback after dismal performance in the 2013 election, it was this (NA-120 contest) but unfortunately the opportunity has been lost because of the leadership’s poor judgement,” he said. It’s time the PPP leaders including those from Punjab racked their brains and came up with a strategy, he said, or else the writing is on the wall.

He suggested, “it will be better if we only consume our energies in south Punjab and some pockets in other parts of the province ahead of next year’s election.”

Former president Asif Ali Zardari had recently said he had declared after the 2013 election that he would not do politics for the next four years and get active during the last year of the PML-N tenure.

Another PPP leader said: “I think there is no wisdom in waking up to the situation in the last year of the PML-N tenure. Much better is the option to focus on the areas where the PPP still has some strength in Punjab.”

The PPP’s drubbing in the last general election and failure to make up for it on any of the subsequent occasions made some of its stalwarts switch to the PTI. Among them are former federal ministers Firdous Ashiq Awan, Nazar Gondal, Samsam Bokhari, Imtiaz Safdar Warraich, Moazam Jatoi and Babar Awan, former opposition leader in Punjab Assembly Raja Riaz, former provincial minister Ashraf Sohna, former PPP south Punjab secretary general Aamir Dogar, former MNA Amir Yar Warren and Fawad Chaudhry.

On Tuesday, former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf also admitted that the party was “weak” in Lahore and central Punjab.

PPP leader from south Punjab Haider Zaman Qureshi told Dawn that the voter trend in NA-120 appeared simple -- vote for two strong candidates (Kulsoom Nawaz and Dr Yasmin) but the PPP did not leave the arena.

“Although the PPP lacks a strong base in Lahore, it will perform well at places such as Okara, Mandi Bahauddin and some other districts of central Punjab just as it is expected to do in southern parts of the province in 2018,” he said.

Mr Qureshi said Bilawal had started holding rallies in Punjab to mobilise workers and it would help strengthen the party.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2017