RAWALPINDI: The PPP seems to have a very limited choice of candidates to field from the city as a majority of its local leaders are not interested in contesting the upcoming general elections.

Dawn talked to a number of PPP leaders who had contested the previous elections, almost all of whom expressed a lack of interest in the elections.

There’s a host of reasons for the PPP leaders for not contesting the elections, including the party’s poor performance in the city, especially during its 2008-13 rule.

There are four National Assembly seats for the city and cantonment areas — NA-52, NA-54, NA-55 and NA-56.

Amir Fida Paracha, who was a PPP candidate in 2008 and lost to Makhdoom Javed Hashmi of the PML-N, is not interested in the election this time. He also refused to contest the polls in 2013 after which the party had to field Chaudhry Iftikhar who could bag only 6,216 votes.

“I am not interested in contesting from Rawalpindi for many reasons,” Mr Paracha told Dawn. He said the party would field any other leader.

Most of the local leaders who contested previous polls are not interested in applying for party tickets

Zammrud Khan, who won NA-54 in the 2002 elections and lost the seat in 2008, is also not interested in the elections. “Zammrud Khan has not been active in the constituency for 10 years and the party failed to make any replacement in the constituency,” said a senior PPP leader.

He said Mr Khan had supported independent or PTI candidates in the cantonment local government elections. “It will be difficult for the PPP to find a suitable or experienced candidate in the next elections,” he said.

In NA-56, which is currently held by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan, the PPP also has no potential candidate. Sardar Shaukat Hayat contested from the area in 2002 and 2008 but in 2013 he also refused to get a party ticket. As a result, the PPP fielded Israr Ahmed Abbasi who could get just 4,091 votes.

The PPP is also facing problems in NA-52, comprising rural areas. In 2013, it supported PML-Q’s Raja Basharat as its former federal minister for industries Raja Shahid Zafar joined the PML-N. After his departure, the PPP has not found any leader to represent it in the constituency.

PPP old guard and former senator Sardar Saleem, who was the city president during Ziaul Haq’s martial law, said his party had ignored its ideology during the last 10 years. “PPP displays Bhutto’s pictures but has failed to adopt his ideology which was the main attraction for the people. This is the main reason the party has failed to find suitable candidates for the elections,” he said.

“PPP is facing problems in the garrison city from where the party launched movements when it was headed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. Even the party’s runner-up candidates got over 50,000 votes in the past,” he said.

Mr Saleem said he was not interested in any party office or ticket but wanted to see the revival of Bhutto’s PPP that was committed to bringing a socio-economic change in society.

“Bad decisions of party leaders to choose members for the central executive committee and local offices forced people to stay away,” he said.

PPP city president Babar Jadoon is also not interested in contesting elections, said Shujaat Haider Naqvi, a party leader.

He said the PPP wanted to bring those leaders to the front who were financially strong. But this experience proved wrong as financially strong leaders always run the party affairs on donations.

“The party should pay attention to its workers instead of property dealers otherwise it will not get votes,” he said.

“The leadership has ignored party workers for 10 years and Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and his father Asif Ali Zardari never visited Rawalpindi to meet the workers. The party invited selected people to Zardari House in Islamabad who were close to Mr Zardari’s political secretary,” said another senior leader.

When contacted, Babar Jadoon said the party was managing to field strong candidates but most of the local leaders were not interested. “A party leader from Murree is interested in NA-56 but for NA-55 there is no such candidate,” he said.

In reply to a question, he said he would contest for a provincial assembly seat. He said the party had started work to prepare a list of candidates for the provincial assembly and comments from the workers would be sought soon.

He said the party had decided not to give tickets to any candidate who refused to contest elections in 2013. “Those who refused to get the party ticket in a difficult time will not be accommodated in the next elections,” he said.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2018