LARKANA: Larkana, which used to be political capital of Pakistan Peoples Party, is no longer Bhuttos’ indomitable fort as the candidates of Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) and the Larkana Awami Ittehad (LAI), who had dealt the first blows to its ramparts, are once again poised to wrest away from it as many seats as possible in June 26 local government election.

The GDA and LAI candidates, who have challenged the ruling party on almost all seats, are capitalising on the steadily increasing anti-PPP voter base but how they translate it into more victories after overcoming internal rifts and dissuading ‘independent’ candidates from dividing the anti-PPP vote is yet to be seen.

The Abbasis of Waleed who had remained PPP stalwarts and close aides of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, formed the LAI in 2013 after distancing from Asif Ali Zardari, the new co-chairman of the party, and succeeded in bringing together all anti-PPP forces under the umbrella of the alliance within no time.

GDA’s MPA Moazzim Abbasi, who twice won the seat after defeating Jamil Ahmed Soomro, political secretary to Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari; and his family members have garnered stronger ties with voters than Soomro, who cannot match his rivals’ ability to spend time with his voters. Besides, the party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari too has little time to look after his constituency after becoming foreign minister.

Perhaps it was the reason MPA Faryal Talpur was recently seen spending more time at Naudero House to assess and finalise lists of candidates for LG seats and settle differences among political bigwigs in Shikarpur.

Former President Asif Ali Zardari, who heads Pakistan Peoples’ Party Parliamentarian, also visited Naudero House and addressed a gathering of select leaders to make effective strategy for winning LG election.

There were reports about discontent brewing in the party ranks over distribution of tickets. Local PPP leaders rejected the reports but the party sources confirmed the resentment. The LAI, of which JUI-F and PTI are also active components, jumped immediately to fill the space created by internal rifts in PPP in towns and union committees.

In LG election, influential families, groups, associations and caste-based organisations play a decisive role hence it is vital to win them over to ensure electoral victory.

In this regard, PTI can cash in on the fact that new chieftain of Bhutto clan, Sardar Ameer Bakhsh Bhutto, is senior vice president of the party. His influence, which can be testified by the disciplined gathering held near Mirpur Bhutto recently where Bhuttos’ declared him chief of the clan, can play a significant role in the electoral victory.

Dr Safdar Abbasi, general secretary of GDA, had recently held a meeting with Bhutto in Mirpur Bhutto to discuss obtaining situation with reference to LG election.

Certain ‘independent’ candidates are being supported by PTI’s Senator Saifullah Abro while JUI-F, which is PPP’s ally at federal level, has formed alliances with different parties at local level and even with PPP in certain pockets of Shikarpur.

The JUI-F is in alliance with PPP in Lakhi and Chak [Shikarpur] and in Larkana it sits with GDA and LAI. The JUI-F justifies its position by saying that the party is free to ally with anyone at local level after taking the centre into confidence.

Interestingly, some newcomers have also taken the field, challenging both the PPP and GDA candidates.

Jamil Soomro and MPA Suhail Siyal are leading electioneering in Larkana. They are seen addressing corner meetings, contacting families and community heads to win over their support for their candidates.

They have, according to sources, succeeded in persuading some old GDA supporters and communities to vote for their party. The brothers of both PPP leaders were also in the run for LG seats.

According to safe assessments, the number of anti-PPP voters is estimated to be higher than that of PPP’s traditional voters but it may translate into electoral win only after internal rifts are addressed.

The candidates contesting as ‘independent’ though enjoying support of certain PTI people, may divide the anti-PPP vote, which may go against GDA and LAI.

JUI-F had a fair share in vote bank but the new delimitations have been made in such a way that the party’s influence has weakened in certain pockets, according to the party sources.

The GDA and LAI leadership continue to criticise interference in administrative matters and allege that its supporters are either being transferred to remote areas or their families are being pressurised. A case in point was the report that two employees of Larkana Municipal Corporation were recently asked to report at secretariat in Karachi, said the sources.

Though provincial election commissioner had categorically directed that development works could not be carried out once the election schedule had been announced but his directive was being openly flouted in Larkana where the works were being executed in broad daylight.

The PPP has a clear edge over its opponents in LG election but in certain pockets the opposition GDA and LAI had acquired a firm footing. In the last LG election, the GDA had swept six union committees out of 20 in Larkana Municipal Corporation and lost by hairline in a number of union committees.

In Dokri town, Unnars are putting up stiff resistance to PPP. In Dhamraha, Irshad Khan Junejo and Buland Khan Junejo, supported by groups of former ambassadors to UAE — late Chakar Ali Khan Junejo and MNA Khursheed Ahmed — are vying for the seat of member of district council.

Irshad Junejo, a close aide to Ameer Bakhsh Bhutto, senior vice president of PTI, is pitted against Buland Khan Junejo, son of MNA Khursheed Junejo.

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2022

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