ISLAMABAD: Reeling from a recent exodus of ‘electables’ and senior members from its ranks, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) appears to be in a quandary over finding suitable candidates to field from Punjab in the July 25 general elections.

Sources in the party told Dawn that since a large number of PPP bigwigs had joined the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), the PPP leadership in the province had the tough task of nominating new candidates, especially from central Punjab.

Even though former ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has not yet announced its candidates from any province, the PPP had taken a lead and announced its election hopefuls for the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Sindh and Balochistan. The PPP leadership’s decision to withhold the announcement of candidates from Punjab has exposed its past failures of re-organising the party in the province at the right time.

Taking advantage of the situation, a large number of second and third tier PPP workers and leaders have, this time around, applied for party tickets. However, the leadership is perturbed over the fact that most of these applicants do not have sufficient experience of contesting even local governments elections. Besides this, most of these ticket aspirants do not have sufficient money required to run the campaign.

Party’s top leadership has been claiming they have too many applicants

Only recently, former president Asif Zardari had claimed that his party would take over the whole of Punjab in the general elections as he had decided to come into the field with his son Bilawal Bhutto and daughters Bakhtawar and Aseefa. However, it is interesting to note that neither Zardari nor Bilawal have filed papers from any constituency in Punjab.

“There is no doubt that the PTI has dented the party severely in Punjab,” a senior PPP member from Lahore told Dawn.

“You see, the party has suffered a lot due to the departure of people like Nadeem Afzal Chan, Nazar Gondal, Murtaza Satti, Imtiaz Safdar Warraich, Samsam Bokhari, Nawabzada Ghazanfar Gul and Ashraf Sohna,” he said.

The PPP leader was of the view that in the past too, many big names like Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Aftab Sherpao and Farooq Leghari had ditched the party, but at the time the party had remained intact and strong due to the charismatic leadership of Benazir Bhutto. “This charisma is no doubt missing in the party,” he added.

He then went on to make an interesting comment which exposes the incapability of the present party leadership in developing a strong footing in the province: “Most of the party leaders had joined the PTI not in the love for Imran Khan or his party. They took this extreme decision when they lost all the hopes of seeing things getting better in the party and realised that the PPP is getting weaker and weaker with every passing day.”

Sources in the PPP say the party leadership had delayed the award of party tickets in hopes that dissidents from the PML-N and the PTI may approach the party.

“Yes, we hope that some of those who are presently fighting for tickets of the PML-N and the PTI may contact us once the two parties settle their internal disputes,” said a PPP office-bearer, privy to developments with regard to the ticket-awarding process. He said in the past, there had been a few PPP members who had quit the party but had not been awarded tickets by the PML-N or the PTI. However, he said, the party was divided on the issue of taking those members back into the party-fold, because they had left the party but now wanted to return after failing to acquire tickets from the rival parties.

“A large number of party members are of the view that such people should not be accepted back to the party even if they lose the elections,” he added.

Interestingly though, the PPP’s leaders have been claiming officially that the party has been unable to finalise its list of its candidates from Punjab because of a large number of applicants in almost every constituency.

PPP secretary general Farhatullah Babar claimed that they had received more than 2,500 applications and there were more than three aspirants per constituency, in a number of areas.

Similarly, PPP’s Punjab secretary general Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed claimed the party had strong candidates in many Punjab constituencies. He rejected the impression that they did not have the required number of candidates. He, however, admitted that they had withheld the announcement of party candidates with the hope that they could be contacted by disgruntled leaders of other parties.

Mr Manzoor expressed hope that the party might announce its Punjab candidates in two phases in the coming days.

Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2018