The Grand Demo­cratic Alliance (GDA), launched as a platform to counter the influence of the Bhuttos in Sindh, did not fare well in the July 25 elections. The voters rejected the alliance amidst reports that it was being backed by both the establishment and the government in Sindh — with the former manifesting itself over the course of the election campaign, as GDA insiders themselves admitted to receiving help.

But, all of it — to no avail. The alliance lost even in some of its strongholds, such as Khairpur and Sanghar. Influential candidates like Ghulam Murtaza Jatoi — a feudal heavyweight — lost in his home constituency Naushahro Feroze. Furthermore, other electoral powerhouses also lost. The list includes bigwigs — Pir Sadruddin Shah, Arbab Ghulam Rahim, and Syed Ghaus Ali Shah.

The logic that drove the formation of the alliance was to offset the popularity of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in the province. Influential landlords and seasoned politicians were all part of the GDA in its bid to win enough seats to give it the power to leverage government formation in Sindh.

The GDA was under the umbrella of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F), and was spearheaded by its chief Pir Pagara who was also networking with the Chaudhry brothers of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), Pervez Musharraf, Imran Khan and other anti-PPP groups.

To further his campaign, Pir Pagara had also met different factions of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) hinting at possible alliances after the elections. However, Ayaz Latif Palijo, the GDA’s secretary, denied any such possible coalition.

The GDA was hopeful that since several leaders of the PPP first rebelled for not given party tickets and then joined the alliance, the GDA would be successful in damaging PPP’s vote bank.

Some of the senior PPP leaders who had switched to the GDA included Zulfiqar Mirza and his wife Fehmida Mirza, Sattar Rajpar and Saifullah Dharejo.

Unnatural alliance

Despite the intended strategy of the GDA to provide an alternative to the voters in Sindh — a chance to vote for any other party than the PPP — the alliance ended up being an alternative only to the powerful politicians who jumped the PPP ship. The formation of the conglomerate was hasty, and according to political observers, the GDA did not evolve as a political platform, and only functioned on the ploy of being anti-PPP. Some argue that the alliance would have stood a better chance had it developed right after the elections in 2013, to give it five years to build its identity.

The U-turn of the invisible hand?

Ayaz Palijo argues that the GDA was betrayed by its backers as the political dynamics began to change. He alleges that following the conviction of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the PPP reached an agreement with the establishment, allowing it to win. Apparently, it was an unsigned, unannounced NRO. Palijo also claimed that the urban voters chose to stay back and that could also have impacted the election.

Other observers seem to agree and contend that as the campaign evolved, the entire scheme of things did as well and the previously important MQM and the PSP were also marginalised.

Analyst Manzoor Solangi believes that the establishment feared that the PML-N may gain a lot of sympathy votes in Punjab, and that may cause the party to rebel — launching widespread protests. Considering the instability of the economy, the establishment did not wish to create further controversy either. That is also why, Manzoor argues, they decided to hold off on their pursuit of Asif Ali Zardari, as the idea was that going after both the PML-N and the PPP at the same time may cause mass agitation. The PPP was allowed space in Sindh, but the elections in Punjab were engineered, he concludes.

GDA: More spiritual than political

Professor Dr Imdad Chandio sees the GDA having more of a spiritual bent than a political one. Some of its important leaders, he argues, like the Mirzas, Arbab Rahim and Jatoi among others were limited to their constituencies and the alliance had no overarching political design. Several of the alliance’s candidates were also in supposed conflict with each other, and these factors contributed to it failing in the polls.

The GDA leadership failed to reach out to the public and build a case for voting them in. Observers believe that its candidates hardly had a leg to stand on considering most of them had failed in government back in the ’80s and the ’90s.

Analysts do, however, argue that the failure of the alliance to upstage the PPP is not due to the latter’s performance and good governance over the years — far from it — but because the GDA did not provide a viable alternative. The Peoples Party can be replaced through PPP-like leadership, which can be popular and accessible to the people. Many argue that anti-PPP sentiment is strong within the province, which is rooted in the party’s failure to perform despite being in power for a significant amount of time.

Provoking minorities?

The former speaker of the National Assembly and GDA candidate from Badin, Dr Fehmida Mirza, complained that PPP Senator Krishna Kohli aggravated minority voters against the alliance. Dr Chandio does contend that candidates like the controversial Mian Mithoo — accused by the Hindu community of having been involved in forced conversions of Hindu girls — and the several religious alliances forming all over, pushed minority voters to support the PPP.

New voters not convinced

Analysts argue that despite corruption allegations and bad governance of the PPP, the new voters in the province were not ready to replace it with an amalgamation of unnatural alliances. The GDA was simply just not attractive enough, and observers claim that the people of Sindh, in rejecting the alliance, have proved their commitment to liberal and progressive politics.

Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2018