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Twilight of the PPP?

Published May 07, 2013 08:15am


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THE battle lines have been drawn as polling day closes in. The outcome of these elections, now less than a week away, is perhaps the most difficult to predict since the 1970s. There may be many surprises waiting as the battle at the hustings intensifies.

It is no more a traditional fight for the crown between the two long-term rivals, the PPP and PML-N. The meteoric rise of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has completely changed the country’s electoral scene. A quintessential outsider is now challenging the domination of the two established parties.

Seemingly, the elections have essentially become a contest between the PML-N and PTI with the region along the Grand Trunk Road in the Punjab becoming the main battleground. Various opinion polls vindicate the widespread perception.

While the two front runners are jostling it out, the PPP seems to be out of breath. Its lacklustre election campaign does not give much hope to party loyalists. Is this the twilight moment for the party which has been at Pakistan’s political centre stage since its inception some four decades ago? Maybe, or not as yet. But the decline of the PPP’s political base is shocking.

Leaderless and rudderless sums up the current state of the PPP, as it struggles to stay in the critical race. There are no big election rallies nor is there any central leader to galvanise the electorate. For the first time, the party has gone into the election campaign without a Bhutto to lead it. Therefore there is no Bhutto charisma to revive the party’s fast-diminishing populist credibility.

Not only was Benazir Bhutto there to start the party’s 2008 election campaign, her assassination drew sympathy votes bringing back the party to power after a hiatus of 11 years. But now a critical peg to hang on to and a fight-back to regain the ground lost during its not so enviable five-year term in office appear to be missing. The party’s TV campaign advertisements reflect its desperation to clutch on to the past and resort to the politics of martyrdom.

It is largely a negative campaign targeting the past record of the PML-N. There is nothing about its own performance or what the party will offer to the electorate in the future. This illustrates the defeatist mindset of a party that is unable to defend its incompetence and corruption-ridden rule. It is a sad commentary on the state of what was once the most formidable political force in the country.

Over the past 40 years, the PPP went through many ups and downs, but it has never seen its fortunes plummeting so rapidly. It is a party now trying to live off its past without any hope for the future. One of the greatest assets of the party that kept it alive through the worst of times was its contact with the masses. That seems to have been completely lost due to the party’s new ethos of political wheeling and dealing and buying loyalties.

Not surprisingly, this new political culture is manifested in the emergence of people of the ilk of Manzoor Wattoo, Anwar Saifullah, Faryal Talpur and Owais Muzaffar ‘Tappi’ as the faces of the party. The jiyalas have long disappeared, leaving the party soulless.

The attempt to launch Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to infuse some life into the party’s dead election campaign seems to have failed because of his reported falling out with his father and paternal aunt. In any case it would have been very difficult for an untested young man with little understanding of the realities and complexities of the country’s politics to boost the flagging morale of the party and to win votes.

For long, the party’s support base in the urban areas particularly in Punjab has been shrinking, but it now seems to be heading to an expulsion there with the PTI and PML-N now fighting for the urban middle-class votes. The party’s only hope is to scavenge some seats because of the divided votes between the two main contestants.

The PPP has largely become a rural-based party with its support mainly concentrated in feudal-dominated Sindh and south Punjab. Yet, it seems hard to predict whether it can maintain its hold in those regions too in the elections. While the party is most likely to retain its domination in Sindh, it may not get the same margin of victory. The failure of the PPP government to deliver on its promises to its constituents has also eroded the party’s vote bank in its stronghold.

Having said that, the PPP may be down but it is certainly not completely out of the race. Even with a far fewer number of seats, the party will remain relevant in an expectedly fragmented house, though it is likely to not be in a position to lead the coalition.

In a scenario where the PTI gets close to the number of seats as the PML-N, it would become much more difficult to form a viable and effective coalition government. In a hung parliament the PPP with its majority in the Senate will hold the balance.

But the real issue is whether a rudderless PPP with a declining mass base is able to emerge united after a possible electoral setback or whether the situation would lead to the complete unravelling of a party that still claims to espouse liberal credentials.

The May 11 elections are indeed important for the party, but a more critical issue is whether it can ever regain its lost mass base. This is only possible if the party reforms itself in a changed political, social and cultural environment. It is certainly an uphill task for a party that depends on its past and does not seem to be looking towards the future.

The writer is an author and journalist. Twitter: @hidhussain


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Comments (22) Closed

Akil Akhtar May 07, 2013 06:19am
What did they expect when they elected Zardari....
Abdul Mujeeb May 07, 2013 06:57am
Well written!
Faisal May 07, 2013 05:57am
Not just the incompetence and corruption. The policy of backing criminal gangs, arming the Lyari youth and Pashtoon belts of Karachi with the help of ANP has made the life in Karachi a living hell. 8000 or more shot dead in last three and a half years. Ironically in all this the sectarian and banned outfits have established themselves in the city making a mockery of law and order on daily basis. As a result some communities have already started to migrated from Karachi while resiliant ones are also thinking on such lines. This probably is the greatest sin of PPP lead government. Long live Zulfiqar Mirza.
mrachakai May 07, 2013 05:34am
full of contradictions.........
Khota May 07, 2013 03:57am
A nice summary of the state of affairs. But where is the jiala?
Adil Khan May 07, 2013 08:14am
End of the Bhutto era? Maybe there IS a new dawn dawning! Thank you for being the bringers of Good News, Dawn! Maybe the the Dawn doth come?
Guest63 May 07, 2013 07:11am
I being an ex co called Jiyala of the PPP street power , had some how saw the unseen after 1971 elections ( ZAB's undemocratic and just ego driven politics of PPP with dire consequences for the nation and the physical side of the country called Pakistan ) , Left the party fold soon after his " Ither hum , udther tum mantra to democratically elected majority party of sh Mujib and then becoming the 1st ever Civilian Marshal law administrator " . I never voted for PPP or any body linked to PPP ( even he/she was from my biradari/dharra) . Its pity but the downfall of the PPP like its sky rocketing fortunes in late 60s , was on the behest of ZAB himself and then his famous daughter BB . After 1971 election , PPP only won on the bases of Corpse Mantra ( victim / sympathy crying phenomenon ) , what ever was left , AAZ buried it with his now famous slogan "democracy cum reconciliation to take along every body regardless of the cost , is the best revenge " . Bilawal perhaps saw this dark side of the mantra and did the right thing to save his own skin , no Zardaris will ever venture out to save PPP , for them , it had served the purposes for giving him a 5 years stay out of his 2nd choice residency ( jail ) with a possible but not probable , 2nd term in the save heaven of his other 1st choice residency ( presiudency )
Abid Mahmud Ansari Islamabad. May 07, 2013 08:40am
PPP is likely to be fragmented into at least three factions. One in Punjab is going to be led by Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo, Sindh faction going to be led by Faryal Talpur/Asif Zardari, and the third may be by BB's friend, Ms.Nahid from Rawalpindi and surrounding areas. It'll not matter much,which side Bilawal Zardari goes,because he lacks every quality,which was hallmark of Bhutto's charisma,and required in politics. So we are going to witness a rapid vanishing of PPP.
Parvez May 07, 2013 10:35am
Nice and balanced view.
jamil May 07, 2013 09:11am
no matter who wins; the million dollar question is will he steer the country out of the scathing problems it faces?
Iqbal May 07, 2013 10:03am
PPP has always banked on a tragedy to get the public support. It died its natural death when Zardari and Company took over the reigns from Makhdoom Amin Fahim and the Company. Only a miracle can save PPP now.
Arshad Patel,Ohio,USA May 07, 2013 10:08am
no matter who wins; the million dollar question is will he steer the country out of the scathing problems it faces? WELL SAID, but the question is for the billions of dollars also which Zardari has looted and trillions of dollars which PPP jiyalas have been GIFTED (from the national treasury) for their loyalty to the party.
aslam minhas May 07, 2013 10:38am
PPP is practically buried. Its last five years misrule, inaction and corruption was the las nail in its coffin. Today its 'nohas' and neative campaign are further alienating people. It will be difficult to support Zardari for another day much less a term. Also the dissenting group within the party will then openly (and rightly so) oppose Zardari and his minions. The real contest is between PMLN and PTI. Prediction is difficult.
AHA May 07, 2013 10:46am
Zardari killed PPP. The name PPP does not have any significance anymore.
Amjad Wyne May 07, 2013 02:10pm
PPP did not just kill itself, it also ruined Pakistan. From horrible governance to a total disregard for the country and its people, it has pushed back Pakistan by decades.
ali abbas May 07, 2013 04:48pm
what part of this article is balanced?
khan May 07, 2013 06:05pm
I am not a supporter of PPP and I agree with most of the comments about the worse governance of Zardari led govt; however, it's fact that it was the only party that had roots in every province and even in karachi, unfortunately voracious apetite of corrupt leaders is also going to engulf PPP's that pride. I am worried that disintegration of this party may deepens our already existng provincial diffrences. it's premature to discuss about imran's led PTI"s capabilities but atleast Nawaz's led PML fails to prove such abilities. it's my way of thinking may Allah proven it wrong.
Brian May 07, 2013 09:30pm
That's because all the other parties face daily terror from the militants. We'll see the extend to which the conservative parties sold out Pakistan to the extremists when they sweep to power.
Brian May 07, 2013 09:21pm
Say what you want about the PPP, but the fact is they have always inherited total messes left behind by military governments. ZAB came to power after Yahya's East Pakistan fiasco. BB came to power after the long years of Zia's "pious" corruption and Afghanistan induced drug violence, and now Zardari came to power after Musharraf. Furthermore at least in BB's case she was never given the authority to actually lead the government, as the military still held all the cards. The problem though was the PPP didn't get to develop into what its founders wanted, a genuine socialist party. ZAB made it into a family clique and purged it of the people who had principles like J.A. Rahim. Because the Bhuttos never built up the PPP as a *party*, it is weak today.
Roohi Khan May 08, 2013 12:55am
The writer has made an unfounded and untested conclusion that the PPP has lost its mass base. Such naysayers have had to eat their words before. Journalists should stick to journalism rather than half baked political analysis with no empirical basis.
Javaid Bashir May 08, 2013 02:18am
Great analysis of the present political dilemma faced by PPP. the party is not relevant in the elections, and has lost the respect of the people. It has lost the support of the people also over these five years. It has failed to deliver on its promises.. The election campaign run by a novice in an erratic manner has been lackluster. The workers are upset over the ruling regime's politics, and neglect of the workers. Leaders like Safdar Abbasi are thinking of reviving the old PPP.. This will be done after the elections. There is no other choice for the party. The present scenario is quite bleak, and early death and defeat of the party is on the cards. May be after the crushing defeat they will learn their lesson. Still we wish them good luck at the polls. JAVAID BASHIR
pathanoo May 08, 2013 03:20am
In his grab for power, Zardari sowed the seeds of destruction of the PPP. Not only a man corrupt beyond any doubt in public's mind; he was also despised as the man corrupting Benazir. He was seen taking advantage of his wife's Prime Ministership and filling his pockets. That in a patriarchal Pakistani society is as low as you can get in public eyes. Zardari had no background, experience, any educational or business background to groom him for the post he got because his wife was murdered and he benefited from the sympathy factor. On top of htat he never stood for any thing, accomplished zilch. The destruction, of PPP was to be expected under the circumstances.