Government staff takes election material to polling stations on Wednesday.—Dawn
Government staff takes election material to polling stations on Wednesday.—Dawn

LARKANA: The Pakistan Peoples Party leadership is employing all the weapons in its arsenal to secure an honourable win on PS-11 in its stronghold Larkana, which the party had lost to Moazzam Abbasi, joint candidate of Larkana Awami Ittehad (LAI) and Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) in general election.

After the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announced holding re-election for the seat on Oct 17 in the wake of Supreme Court’s verdict, de-seating Abbasi, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, PPP chairman, announced at Garhi Khuda Bakhsh Bhutto on Sept 15 that he was fielding his political secretary Jamil Soomro to contest the seat, much to the dismay of the likes of Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, president PPP Sindh chapter, and Tariq Siyal, brother of provincial minister Sohail Anwer Siyal, who had also applied for the party ticket.

Political pundits express doubts the decision will help achieve results amid current situation but at the same time they believe politics is art of analysing a situation and mapping out strategies accordingly.

Jamil Soomro, according to Bilawal, had worked with Benazir Bhutto for 30 years and was now political secretary to him but the question is how can it be possible for Soomro, who had been associated with Sardar Mumtaz Ali Bhutto’s Sindh National Front before switching over to PPP, to clinch the seat.

Fielding his own political secretary who is also member of central executive committee of the party as PPP’s candidate requires extraordinary political manoeuvring to not only muster support in general but also reactivate the party as lately Bilawal had dissolved district and city bodies of the party in Larkana and replaced them with interim organising committees.

These committees headed by MNA Khursheed Junejo and Aftab Nek Mohammad Bhutto are now tasked with reorganising the party in Benazir Bhutto’s home district.

The change came after PPP had forced former Larkana mayor Aslam Shaikh to step down and replaced him with the party’s general secretary Khair Mohammad Shaikh. Interestingly, both Shaikhs were former presidents of Larkana Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Recently, perhaps after having realised political temperature, Bilawal stayed four days at Naudero House to have exhaustive meetings with elected chairmen, vice chairmen and members of PPP-dominant union councils falling within the constituency.

Bilawal assessed the feedback he received from them and entrusted them responsibilities to step up efforts for garnering maximum support for the party’s candidate in re-election. The party’s MNAs and MPAs hailing from the constituency were also consulted over the issue to realise the dream of his mother to have “century” of PPP’s MPAs in Sindh Assembly.

The PPP stalwart and president of the party’s Punjab chapter Qamar Zaman Kaira along with Chaudhry Manzoor in connection with re-election had visited Larkana and spoke at a number of corner meetings where they severely criticised GDA’s candidate.

A new factor that has crept into politics is the role the tribal chiefs play to ensure support of their tribesmen to the candidates of their choice. The phenomenon took root in Sindh during General Musharraf’s era when a host of ‘kingdoms’ were built under the military regime’s new system of local government in which many tribal chiefs or their cronies were elected as district nazims and chairmen. It later had harmful impact on democracy.

GDA candidate Moazzam Abbasi had defeated Nida Khuhro, daughter of Nisar Khuhro who was fielded after her father was disqualified. Abbasi secured 32,204 votes while Ms Khuhro polled 21,825 votes.

The constituency comprises 15 union councils of Larkana Municipal Corporation and of them four were secured by Larkana Awami Ittehad (LAI) while the fifth one was clinched by JUI-F, which has now thrown its weight behind the GDA candidate.

The LAI is trying its best to improve is standing in the five union councils it had won and those which it claims to have lost by a thin margin.

JUI-F factor

The GDA’s MNA Ghous Bakhsh Mahar and Unnars of Aliabad had divided Shaikh community. Abro community has put their weight behind Abbasi while Shafqat Unnar of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf who had filed papers as an independent candidate had withdrawn his papers later under the party command.

The PTI was supporting Abbasi while the JUI-F had already lent support to him. The JUI-F went a step further by arranging a corner meeting for GDA’s Abbasi and openly supporting his candidature.

Rashid Mehmood Soomro, general secretary of JUI-F Sindh chapter, and his brother Nasir Mehmood Soomro, district emir of the party, said that one should not draw comparisons between the party’s policy on re-election in Ghotki and Larkana.

In Ghotki it had supported PPP’s nominee but in Larkana it opposed PPP. The central leadership had left it to them to make independent decision in the light of exigencies of local politics, they said.

Both the contestants were trying to garner support of different political conglomerates, social organisations and tribal, sub-tribal groups to increase their chances of victory.

Apparently, the PPP candidate faces difficult questions from public because even after change of mayor, the city’s drainage system had not improved. During door to door canvassing, Jamil Soomro had to navigate through oozing gutters in Reshamgali and wade through sewage to reach shopkeepers, which throws into question the performance of PPP-backed mayor.

Miserable civic conditions

The PPP’s then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had claimed that Garhi Khuda Bakhsh Bhutto village where top party leaders were buried would be made into a model town and Larkana a model district but clearly this did not happen.

It was incomprehensible why PPP had miserably failed to improve the battered drainage system of Larkana even after 10 years in rule. If the top party leadership could not fulfil its commitment then what could one say about the party’s lower cadre?

But the leadership disputes the critics’ arguments about below par development in Larkana and hastens to refer to circular roads’ construction, which is an appreciable job in itself but little has been done to improve drainage system.

PPP’s critics and the GDA candidate alleged that during 10-year PPP rule, the gulf between party workers and leaders had widened.

Another interesting factor is that Dr Safdar Abbasi, head of PPP-Workers, who had remained political secretary to Benazir Bhutto, also opposed Jamil Soomro for obvious reasons.

The fact that Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari had also jumped in the election campaign speaks volumes for the importance the PPP has attached to the re-election on PS-11. It is perhaps fear of unexpected results that both candidates and their supporters are trying their utmost to win the seat.

The practice of trading charges from both sides reverberates in corner meetings of PPP and GDA, which is further contributing to deepen fissures among communities, an element that may somehow cast negative impact on PPP.

The PPP is employing all its weapons to capture the seat while Abbasi is making efforts to retain it.

Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2019