PERCHED between branded malls, just off the main university road, Arbab Alamgir’s hujra and adjoining drawing room and rooms are teeming with his supporters who begin pouring in early in the day till the wee hours next day.
This would be the 57-year-old’s third time to contest elections from the NA-30 (Peshawar) constituency that he has inherited along with the vast landholdings in one of Peshawar’s most prized locations from his late father, Arbab Mohammad Jehangir Khan Khalil. But unlike his father who in today’s electoral parlance was an ‘electable’ owing to his personal and family vote bank, Alamgir has remained with the PPP for almost 18 years now.
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And this may well be the reason, why his party has chosen to award ticket not just to him but also to his wife Asma Alamgir and son Arbab Zarak Khan Khalil. Asma is a candidate from NA-27, while Zarak is contesting PK-74 seat.
But unlike his father, who had won the provincial and national assembly seats from Peshawar multiple times and was a one-time chief minister of then North-West Frontier Province, Alamgir has been struggling to hold on to his NA-30 constituency. He won once but then lost the second time, swept away by Imran Khan’s political tsunami.
And signs are Arbab family’s woes may not be over easily, not least because the Arbab clan is divided with Alamgir’s cousin Arbab Sher Ali challenging him from the PTI’s platform — but more so on account of, as many of his associates and friends point out, PPP’s lack of organisational support for its own candidates.
This is not entirely incorrect. Barring the party posters, flags and one odd individual wearing the tri-colour party caps, hardly anyone from the party can be found among the throng at his hujra. Almost all those present at his residence are his supporters who, like lemmings, follow Alamgir, or before him, his father, who had joined and abandoned major national and regional parties to suit his political preference and situation.
And this is the predicament that not only the likes of Alamgir face but also the party that its candidates confront in the upcoming electoral battle on July 25. “There is no party,” said one of Arbab’s lead campaigners. “We are virtually on our own.”
The party leadership in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, or whatever that remains of it, seems more interested in Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s election from Malakand, leaving the party candidates elsewhere to fend for themselves. But even if they had been around, there would have been little they could have done to help their candidates by mobilising jiyalas to counter Insafians. The PPP that once was one of the major political parties in KP has suffered erosion in its ranks, senior party leaders acknowledge, adding that disenchanted with the ideological drift of the party, many of its workers have opted to join the PTI.
The party that had bagged 563,057 votes (16.57 per cent of the total votes polled) to get 30 seats in the provincial assembly in 2008 ended up getting 472,550 votes (8.7pc of the total votes polled) to seize just four seats in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly.
Party leaders say that indecision by the leadership to hold intra-party elections at all tiers, organise it down to the union council and give a stable organisational structure had led workers to look elsewhere.
Riven by groupings within the party in KP, the PPP leadership has been struggling to provide stable leadership to unite and reorganise the party. In the last decade, the PPP provincial chapter has had five presidents, all nominated from the top. “Leadership crisis has been a problem,” said one leader.
“What we need is a democratic culture within the party,” a senior party leader said. “Party leadership at different levels should reflect the party’s philosophy. The CEC [central executive committee] should not be a biannual ritual; it needs to be empowered to take decisions and not raise hands like good boys,” the leader argued.
Party leaders say they were not even taken into confidence while drafting the party manifesto and that it should have been discussed at party platforms at least a year before the elections and the party organised through democratic process to strengthen it at the grassroots level. “Bilawal is gaining confidence. Ours is the only party that can challenge the PTI in KP. But if we shut our eyes to reality and not take corrective measures, we will lose the confidence of the people and the party workers,” said one of the leaders.
However, given the state of the party in KP, will it be able to restore some of its past glory?
Chances are, it may actually claw back some of the seats, particularly in Malakand and may be in Peshawar, where the contest seems tough for some of its candidates. Bilawal’s candidature in Malakand and his tours may do some magic but it would be entirely to the candidates to fend for themselves and mobilise voters on the polling day.
Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2018