The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was born on November 30, 1967, when left-leaning political workers, the landed elite from Sindh, and progressive intellectuals of the country got together in Lahore and decided to form an alliance against the then military ruler General Ayub Khan.
The leftist origins of the party are most evident in its first manifesto: “Islam is our religion; democracy is our politics; socialism is our economy; power lies with the people.”
History Under the leadership of its first chairman, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the People’s Party swept the 1970 election with their populist “roti, kapra, makaan” mantra to become the most popular party in the then West Pakistan.
Although Mujibur Rehman’s Awami League bagged the largest number of seats in the then united East and West Pakistan, tensions developed between the leadership of the two units with an eventual uprising in the East. The events led to a war which was followed by the creation of Bangladesh. Subsequently, Bhutto was handed over the presidency of a dismembered Pakistan.
Boasting representation from all federating units of the country, the biggest feat of Bhutto’s government was the drafting of the 1973 Constitution which remains in effect in Pakistan.
Bhutto held a general election in 1977 which PPP won by a large majority. However, the party’s tenure was cut short when General Ziaul Haq staged a coup in 1977 and imposed martial law. Bhutto was hanged in 1979 over murder charges, bringing an end to what could have been a most definitive era of the People’s Party.
Devoid of Bhutto’s charismatic leadership, the party went through several years of struggle and tribulations. His young and inexperienced daughter, Benazir, was subsequently named party co-chairperson. Faced with multiple challenges, the pragmatic Benazir would go on to lead the party through ideological and structural transformations.
In the years after Benazir took over the leadership of the party, it saw divisions in the form of factions and breakaway groups. However, PPP’s key members continued their support for Benazir and gathered under the name of Pakistan Peoples Party – Parliamentarians (PPP-P), an electoral extension of PPP. The factions that were formed included PPP – Shaheed Bhutto group and one that was formed by Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao.
Political stance Though PPP was formed on the pro-poor, socialist slogan of “food, clothing and shelter” and its stance remains as such in its manifesto, a change in its policies over the years indicates a gradual shift in its position from left of the political spectrum towards the centre.
One of the biggest changes in the party’s political stance was a move from a more state-run economy to strong support for privatisation.
With Benazir, the first and only Pakistani woman to become prime minister, and a number of other notable female leaders among its ranks, PPP has strongly espoused women’s rights and has pledged to continue in this regard.
The party has its largest vote bank in Sindh partly due to the decades-long memberships of influential families of the province’s landed elites as well as on account of traditional support from a section of the population of rural Sindh.
With the launch of schemes like the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP), the party still appears to have a tilt towards the left and can be classified as a political group with a left-of-centre orientation. However, it would be safe to say that in the aftermath of its founder’s execution, a number of political assassinations and the party’s confrontations with the military establishment, PPP now appears to stand more for a struggle for sustained democratic rule in Pakistan than for pursuing its socialist ideals.
It is probably most evident in PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s speech from when he was made party chairman that he seems to have simplified the party’s guiding principles of democracy, socialism and people’s power to democracy as “the best revenge”.
Over the years
Under Benazir, PPP served two short terms in office: 1988 to 1990, and 1993 to 1996. Marred by corruption, both her governments were dismissed, the first by Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1990 and the second by Farooq Leghari.
By the time the 1997 general election came around, the party’s share of votes had fallen significantly, although it still managed to hold a place in the national polity.
Benazir would eventually leave Pakistan for almost a decade, during which time the PML-N government was toppled by a military coup led by Pervez Musharraf. She returned in October 2007 with a historic welcome sending signals that the party was on its way to reclaim its lost glory.
However, another era in PPP’s history would come to an end with Benazir’s assassination, leading to what many have described as a vote of sympathy, propelling the party to form a government in Sindh and a coalition government at the centre.
After her assassination, the party’s leadership was handed over, for a second time, to a member of the Bhutto family — this time her son Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. Whereas, Benazir’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, as co-chairman of the party and President of Pakistan, steered a democratic government towards completing its full five-year term, a first in Pakistan’s history.
These five years, however, were not a smooth run for PPP — existential threats and tensions prevailed, sometimes punctuated with milestone moments. The party led the call for the passage of the 18th Amendment — a historic amendment to the Constitution which reduced presidential powers and increased provincial autonomy.
In addition, the party managed to hammer out a consensus on the seventh NFC award meant to increase the provinces’ financial autonomy.
The PPP-led government also unveiled the Aghaz-i-Huqooq-i-Balochistan package aimed at improving the situation in the province. The initiative was lauded but failed to produce the intended results.
Another move by the party was to significantly enhance internal autonomy for the Gilgit-Baltistan region.
The party also dealt with a tumultuous period in Pakistan’s relations with the United States over the five-year term — from the Kerry-Lugar bill to the Osama bin Laden raid and then Salala along with unabated drone strikes, the government steered through the worst period of bilateral ties with America.
The PPP’s term was also witness to what has been described as a clash of state institutions, involving the government (executive), the army and the judiciary. And although the judiciary sent PPP’s Yousuf Raza Gilani sent packing from the prime minister’s residence over the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), the squabble was eventually resolved in the government headed by PPP’s Raja Pervez Ashraf.
Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Asif Ali Zardari, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Raza Rabbani, Raja Pervez Ashraf, Farooq H Naek, Qamar Zaman Kaira, Rehman Malik, Yousuf Raza Gilani, Naveed Qamar, Aitzaz Ahsan, Manzoor Wattoo
— Research and text by Sajjad Haider