LAHORE: The Pakistan People’s Party is vigorously taking part in the NA-133 by-poll being held in Lahore that is considered a citadel of rival Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, (PML-N), with a hope for the party’s revival in Punjab.

The enthusiasm the PPP is exhibiting in the electioneering for NA-133 has surprised many, even its die hard workers or jiyalas, as the party leaders not only from Punjab, but also from Sindh, including provincial cabinet members, are appearing in the corner meetings to show support for its candidate, Chaudhry Aslam Gill.

Though chairman Bilawal Bhutto is not here, his father and former president Asif Ali Zardari is camped in Lahore for many days to boost morale of the workers and woo the disgruntled local leaders.

A senior party leader, considered a confidant of Mr Zardari in Punjab, says the party is taking the electoral bout as a test case and part of the preparations for the next general election.

“We’re availing the opportunity of a ‘one-on-one’ contest, after the ruling PTI was knocked out of the race on technical grounds, to gauge our performance. We will analyse whether people turn to us or a new force emerges to fill the vacuum [created by the absence of PTI],” he says, requesting not to be named. “This analysis will help us in preparing our strategy for the next general election,” he says, adding that the PML-N is also taking the fight seriously.

These views are endorsed by Altaf Hussain Qureshi, a senior leader and member of the committee that had authored the party manifesto for 2002 polls. “The contest shall serve as a barometer to access party’s popularity as well as performance of Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, who as new Punjab chapter president is overseeing the by-polls.”

Mr Qureshi is impressed by the mobilisation of workers during the election campaign. “It was surprising to see so many charged jiyalas, both male and female, young and elderly, after a long time. All are enthusiastically engaged in the election campaign, unlike in the past when a candidate would be left to fen for himself during electioneering.”

He discloses that deviating from the past practice, the party sympathisers are contributing generously to the election expenses of Mr Gill, who belonging to a lower-middle class family can’t afford the expenditures.

Some party leaders claim that the by-poll opportunity is being utilised to revive the PPP’s traditional resistance culture, shunning its reconciliation image created by president Zardari’s policies.

“The party has in principle decided to make the NA-133 by-polls a turning point in its bid to revive its resistance culture as reconciliation policy has caused much damaged,” Punjab chapter secretary general Syed Hassan Murtaza tells Dawn.

He says from now on any cooperation with the PML-N or any other party will be based on issues, unlike in the past when long-term collaboration had been arranged.

“We want to revive the PPP in Punjab and form the next government in the province. Not just in Lahore, whenever such an opportunity comes our way we will contest it forcefully.”

The PTI’s absence in the Lahore by-poll will definitely benefit the PPP as some of the supporters and voters who had abandoned it for its reconciliation policy have started returning to the party folds, he admits.

The PPP’s performance has been on the decline in Punjab, particularly Lahore, since the rise of Nawaz Sharif in 1985 polls that were boycotted by the party. It had bagged six out of nine National Assembly seats from Lahore in the 1988 election, and one each in the 1990 and 1993 contests. However, the party could not win even a single Lahore seat in 1997. In 2002 polls, when the Sharifs had been banished to Saudi Arabia by Gen Musharraf regime, the PPP secured three out of 13 seats. In 2008 it clinched two seats, while in 2013 and 2018 elections the party failed to bag even a single seat in the city.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2021

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