Behind the progressive facade: PPP’s tactics to maintain dominance in Sindh

Forget roti, kapra and makan. The secret lies in zero alternatives, electioneering and exploiting the biradari system.
Published July 24, 2018

It’s popularly believed that the strong grip of feudalism and the Bhutto factor are the main reasons why Sindh votes for the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

This assessment isn’t entirely accurate.

There are two major political reasons behind voting for the PPP.

The PPP wins the nationalistic aspirations of people as it has historically tried to raise issues such as finance and water that otherwise would be taken up by nationalist parties.

A concomitant factor is fear and the ethnic divide — Sindhis fear that if they don’t vote for the PPP, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) will end up dominating them and divide their province.

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Asif Ali Zardari is hell-bent on ensuring that the party is still the leading force in Sindh after Benazir Bhutto’s demise.

This means that, apart from these two political reasons, there are three managerial reasons that give the PPP the edge.

First of all, elections are not a matter of three months. It is a continuous process of five years or so, and the PPP is the only one in Sindh involved in it consistently.

Analyst Naz Sahto explained it to me like this: after polling on July 25, the PPP will immediately start its campaign for the next elections. Unlike other parties, the PPP remains in election mode all the time and keeps on working accordingly.

The rest of the parties, including the ones that have a following in some districts, have not expanded into new areas to increase their voter base.

They do not even bother to formally review the polling results and evaluate mistakes made during the campaign.

Secondly, the local PPP leadership is a beneficiary of party’s corruption as it gets shares in jobs, contracts and commissions.

This is the development model that the PPP follows. It has the networking ability and it can satisfy some quarters by providing a few jobs, building some roads, and installing water pumps and electricity lines.

The third factor can be attributed to the party’s focus on biradaris and tribes. These arrangements help the party get votes. The so-to-speak non-political factor was introduced by Zia ul Haq and was matured by Pervez Musharraf, particularly in local bodies elections.

In addition, the absence of strong alternatives can also be considered a major reason behind the PPP’s continued success in elections in Sindh.

The only option

For alternatives to exist, the responsibility primarily rests on the shoulders of mainstream political parties such as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.

The PML-N has remained uninterested in Sindh’s affairs since the Musharraf era. It has no organisational presence even at the divisional level in the province.

When the party needed a few members of assemblies to show that it was a national party, it could have chosen some influential anti-PPP elements who were readily available. Yet, the PML-N never opted to bring these electables into its fold en masse.

The PML-N can win power at the centre through sweeping Punjab, hence support from Sindh has never been a priority. At the most it might require the MQM, which is a different ballgame.

As far as indigenous alternatives are concerned, there are two possible options: some elites who are opposed to the PPP and, second, the rising middle class, which includes Sindhi nationalists, as it has happened in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and up to some extent in Balochistan.

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The Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) could be a potential challenger. The MQM could complement this formula, which it has been doing, albeit only in Karachi.

The PML-F had the potential to challenge the PPP and emerge as a strong party, but it remained a spiritual organisation, confined to a few districts. It did not even expand its organisational network as a political party and hence failed to become a popular front.

The party is the ‘B-team’ of the powers-that-be. It does not believe that people matter in politics, but rather that power can only be captured with the help of the manipulative elements of the state. The PML-F prefers waiting for that opportunity, for the establishment’s call.

As for Sindhi nationalists, they are divided into two major groups: those who believe in parliamentary struggle and others who prefer non-parliamentary politics. The former lack unity within their ranks.

Qadir Magsi’s Sindh Taraqi Pasand Party, Palijo’s Qaumi Awami Tahreek (QAT) and Jalal Mehmood Shah’s Sindh United Party are not on the same page and contest elections on their separate platforms.

The 18th Amendment, which provided autonomy and ensured more rights to the provinces, defused nationalist upsurge and left them with no narrative.

Since then, nationalists have stopped taking up issues like water and the National Finance Commission Award. This shift has aided the PPP.

The art of electioneering

Earlier, the anti-PPP rural elite were asked to make alliance with urban forces, which came out in the shape of an alliance between the PML-F and MQM. This was the state’s strategy to dismantle the PPP government via makeshift arrangements.

Similarly, in 2013, it was a mixture of rural nationalists and elites of Sindh, but once again it failed to yield results against the PPP.

Now, the Grand Democratic Alliance is in action with two parties — the PML-F and the QAT — plus some influential personalities.

But the PPP has the network and access that others do not. Take the polling day, for example:

There are more than 100 polling stations for provincial assembly constituencies. A candidate needs at least 10 people on the day at a polling station who can work as polling agents, persuade people to cast their votes, arrange for transport, etc.

Setting up election offices and holding public or corner meetings are added expenses. This requires organisational capacity and money.

This is a full-time job for the PPP’s wadera class, who earns from politics and reinvest in it. Those who only do politics as a part-time job find themselves on the losing side.

Out of the waderas’ frying pan, into the middle class fire.

Sindh has another drawback: the parties and groups that pose as alternatives are sometimes worse than the PPP. Those offering alternatives have no alternate programmes and strategies.

The fact is, the middle and upper-middle classes have benefited from state corruption, through government jobs, contracts and commission. A good number of people are beneficiaries of this directly or indirectly.

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The middle class talks about the failure of the public sector in areas such as education and health, and highlights them through social media, but it doesn't try to become a direct stakeholder in the process to improving governance.

Sindh’s middle class is weak and its intellectuals are weak, and it is their inability that has resulted in the lack of alternatives to the PPP.

This why the PPP continues to be the winner.

Illustration by Mushba Said

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