LAHORE: Reigniting its rivalry with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz seems to have started paying the Pakistan Peoples Party dividends as the voters who had abandoned the PPP for reconciling with the PML-N, in the 2013 and 2018 elections have apparently returned to the party folds, as is evident from the results of the NA-133 (Lahore-XI) by-poll held last Sunday.
In the contest, the PPP bagged 32,313 votes, while the PML-N pooled 46,811 votes to retain the seat that fell vacant after the death of its MNA Pervaiz Malik and the ‘unexpected’ tally of votes the PPP secured surprised friends and foes alike.
The PPP increased its vote bank six times since the 2018 general election when it had got just 5,500 votes in the same constituency against close to 90,000 bagged by the PML-N. In fact, the PML-N’s count was more than the total number of votes the PPP had got in all 13 National Assembly constituencies of Lahore in the 2018 election.
PPP sympathisers give the credit to the revival of the party’s rivalry with the PML-N (read Nawaz Sharif), and the N-League indirectly endorses the view, saying the anti-PML-N alliance was ‘tested’ in the NA-133.
Former Punjab PPP information secretary Naveed Chaudhry says that after a long time the anti-Nawaz element was exploited, which helped the party win back its disgruntled cadre that had joined the PTI, when the PPP reconciled with the PML-N in the recent past.
The PPP’s committed anti-Zia voters came out with a vengeance this time to support the party nominee, Chaudhry Aslam Gill (considering Nawaz as a Zia remnant), he says.
Another factor, he says, is the seriousness the party showed in the electioneering as the leadership went to each nook and corner of the constituency to directly address the voters, unlike in the past when the candidate would be left to fend for himself.
Central deputy information secretary Chaudhry Munawwar Anjum says that another contributing factor was the establishment’s neutral role in the contest. He claims if the establishment maintains this neutrality in the next general election the PPP will emerge as the “most popular party” in Punjab.
He argues that the PPP’s policies of strengthening the federation through 18th amendment, securing missile technology for the national defence, providing jobs at a large scale and increasing wages of both public and private sector workers also attract the voters more than the development work by the PML-N in a limited area.
Political and financial support offered by the PPP’s Sindh chapter to Mr Gill also helped the resource-deficient candidate to match the rival party’s campaign, a leader says, requesting not to be named. He claims that co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari provided a bullet-proof vehicle and four cars painted in party colours to Mr Gill to run his campaign effectively.
A PML-N leader, however, says the forces that matter tested the anti-Nawaz alliance in the by-poll by getting the PTI candidate technically disqualified and persuading the Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), that emerged as the third political force in Lahore in the 2018 elections, not to field its aspirant in the contest.
The Pakistan Awami Tehreek of Dr Tahirul Qadri, Majlis Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen and other anti-PML-N parties also lend their support to the PPP in the contest, he says, pointing out that the PPP also attempted to play religious card by highlighting the role of late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in declaring Ahmadis non-Muslim.
Claiming the anti-Nawaz alliance will be widened in the Khanewal by-polls due later this month, he says the PML-N also took the Lahore challenge ‘lightly’ and neither mobilised its workers, nor generated funds for the election campaign.
Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2021