PESHAWAR, Feb 8: The Pakistan People’s Party needs a major leap forward to reconnect with its dismayed workers and activate its grassroots organisations to come out of a prolonged hibernation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, political experts say.
The practice of holding periodic organisational meetings at the district, city / town, and the grassroots-ward levels had long been given up leaving diehard workers unattended and their issues unresolved, party workers told Dawn on Tuesday.
“Price hike, power outages, absence of gas, and stories of ministers’ corruption have put the committed party workers on the defensive,” senior PPP leader from Peshawar Saeed Ahmad Khan said, adding that PPP’s prolonged stint in government had compromised its reputation as an anti-establishment party.
PPP, its workers said, had been hard hit by playing junior to a dominating Awami National Party in the provincial coalition government. Several of diehard PPP workers in Peshawar had joined ANP ‘under pressure from the Provincial Local Government Minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour’, said Malik Naveed, a PPP worker from Peshawar city.
“Mr Bilour used his influence in his capacity as the local government minister and made some of the staunchest PPP workers to switch over to ANP,” said Mr Naveed.
Giving a few examples, he provided names of a supervisor water supply in the local government department and two municipal inspectors out of a list of PPP workers who, according to him, changed loyalties from PPP to ANP.
The rising disillusionment among its workers has other reasons as well, undermining PPP’s ability to create or even maintain its political space on the political scene in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, according to political experts.
Dr Ijaz Khan, chairman International Relations Department, University of Peshawar, said PPP was facing the challenge of leadership in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa than the absence of committed workers.
“It has a reasonable number of committed workers, but it lacks a charismatic leader at the top in the province,” said Dr Khan.
Party’s provincial president Sardar Ali, he said, might not be a bad person as its member of the provincial assembly Abdul Akbar Khan was an excellent parliamentarian and its leader from Dir Ahmad Hassan Khan a very humble person, but PPP was in need of someone who had the ability to connect with workers across the province.
“The party is not confronted by the lack of good leaders at the provincial level, but it does not have someone who can come out of his limited area of support and try to connect with a vast party worker base from Peshawar to Chitral,” said Dr Khan.His words were echoed in PPP workers’ complaints. Malik Naveed and Sadiq Chairman from the inner Peshawar city said the newly-appointed provincial PPP chief Sardar Ali was as inaccessible for ordinary party workers as was the case with his predecessor Zahir Shah, incumbent provincial health minister.
“PPP has seen an enormous change during the past four years getting transformed from a workers’ party to a parliamentary party,” said Sadiq Chairman, former Union Council Nazim from Peshawar. The party leadership, he added, was only concerned about the party MPAs and MNAs (members of the national assembly).
Like him, Mr Naveed and Mr Saeed Khan said the incumbent provincial president was confined to his house in Pabbi, near Peshawar, ignoring the importance of remaining in touch with the party workers.
The party’s provincial leadership had recently announced to undertake a whirlwind mass contact campaign to contact party workers in major Khyber Pakhtunkhwa cities from the start of this month. However, the program remains to materialise as it could not take of due to the provincial leaders other preferences.
Syed Ayub Shah, the secretary information of PPP Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told Dawn that the scheduled public meetings were postponed because of the provincial leaders’ preoccupation with the upcoming Senate elections.
Besides, they were busy with preparations in connection with the likely joint session of the parliament.
He, however, conceded that there was a greater room for improvement to establish contacts with the party workers. “Our party organisations are intact from the province up to the ward level, but the need to make improvements always remains there,” he said.Farid Toofan, a leader of PML-Nawaz, said PPP in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was plagued by internal conflicts, resulted by the concentration of powers in the hands of the central party president.
“Their position (organisational strife) is much deeper than us (PML-N),” he said, adding that “every new PPP provincial chief makes horrendous mistakes, making his predecessor as pardonable.”
The party, said Mr Naveed and Mr Sadiq, would step into the next general elections with a band of less enthusiastic workers, undermining its chances to maintain its numeric strength in the provincial assembly.
“PPP workers are unique in more than one way as they don’t leave their party when dismayed, but they take revenge from the party leadership by not coming out to vote or work for the party candidates on the polling day,” said Saeed Khan. He said old PPP stalwarts like Syed Ayub Shah, Qamar Abbas and Azam Afridi, all of them from the grassroots, lost the elections in 1997 as the committed PPP workers did not work for the party and stayed inside their houses on the polling day.