Writing on the wall


Why there is no steam in PPP poll campaign

Of the three mainstream national parties hoping to win enough seats to form a likely coalition, the Pakistan People’s Party is the odd one out. Both the pundits and hoi polloi are baffled at why it has not hit the campaign trail in its signature style.

For the country’s largest — and actually only nationally represented political force in the last parliament — not to even be seen as a contender as if having given up is intriguing to say the least.

The party may be hemmed in by several limitations — losing one prime minister to judicial outreach, and carrying the baggage of his dubious replacement now — but it is highly inconceivable for a student of Pakistani politics to associate electoral surrender with the PPP.

All that we have seen thus far is a squeamish campaign restricted to a few TV adverts and an uninspiring recorded speech of chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, whose body language, just gave the party’s current level of fidgety confidence away.

Even the paid content is mostly driven by negative energy. Leave alone detractors, of which there is no dearth, it makes even loyalists question the protracted state of mourning in whipping up sepia tones of frenzied reaction to Benazir’s assassination.

The unkindest cut of all has been a tribute song, which has been trailed to the disbursement of notorious secret funds, a disclosure of which was made recently in a list handed by the Ministry of Information to the Supreme Court.

Ironically, mournful Benazir eulogies make the spectacular failure of the PPP government led by her widower and President Asif Zardari to bring the culprits to book even more pronounced and painful for jiyalas.

It doesn’t cut ice with either party workers or non-PPP populace that the likes of former interior minister Rehman Malik claimed to know whodunit, but was stopped by the party leadership from making it public. It just might be that the leadership may be underestimating the fury of the average Bhutto loyalist — with elections just 11 days away.

From what one has gathered from several interactions recently, including party sources and independent analysts, the PPP leadership is not unaware of the general discontent with its just ended five-year rule, and knowing the pitfalls of what awaits the next government, may have resigned itself to a stint in the opposition.

The adverts, one has learnt, are not really aimed at general voters or meant as a rallying cry for re-election at the Centre; rather, these are directed at the party cadres in general, and those in Sindh, in particular to secure home turf. The southern province is the only one where the party thinks it has a safe bet despite the convergence of an opposition alliance — and, at least on paper, a clutch of seats in southern Punjab.

To be fair to the PPP, the democratic transition that will hopefully, manifest itself soon in the change of hands from one elected government passing the baton to an interim set-up for onward succession by another elected government, did not come to pass easily.

The last government deserves some credit for staying the course under demanding circumstances — it is hard to conceive, for instance, the PML-N being locked in a maze of four-pronged hostility: from the security establishment, the judiciary, the opposition and the media, not to say highly unreliable partners within the coalition (read MQM) and yet survive the guillotine.

The PPP achieved this and more — whilst looking over their shoulders — to consolidate Project Democracy. The net gain, from the country’s perspective, were constitutional reforms that considerably defanged the security establishment, and have since come to redefine the rules of the game to the benefit of democratic forces.

Where the PPP failed however, and like none else before it, was in good governance — some suggest, not without justification, there was no governance at all — with the result that the average Pakistani has had a miserable time coping with rising inflation, draining energy crisis which has literally, sapped his/her energy, and in a worst case scenario, even food insecurity.

The general decline in the standard of living contrasted with unending stories of massive corruption whose levels rose to abominable proportions in the last days of the government when there was a virtual free-for-all.

Rauf Klasra, a journalist of merit, has gone on record with unchallenged evidence — before PPP parliamentarians in talk shows — about how the last nail was driven in the coffin so-to-speak.

But even if he didn’t, the massive unethical undertakings were visible in how the PM diverted massive funds more than once to his constituency despite there being a bar on doing so by the ECP; the failed attempt to change the CDA chairman to draw huge favours from his blue-eyed replacement; the swift approvals for dozens of CNG stations as well as disbursement of whopping sums to oblige allied MPs; the whimsical transfers and postings to queer the electoral pitch for vested interest and what not.

For a long time now, both friends and foes have acknowledged the sharp survival instincts of President Zardari. He may have been largely “bunkered” but that did not prevent him from “teaching” his rivals political lessons with deft moves they could never have countenanced in their wildest nightmares.

But perhaps, the quota of political tricks is now finally drying up, and the PPP may be reconciled to losing power — perhaps, with the consolation that it will be playing the opposition’s role where it is traditionally, at home.

Agreed nothing can be said with finality in politics, least of all, the Pakistani kind. But even if either of PML-N or PTI does not make a killing on its own, and consequently, the PPP finds itself with a look-in, it would be well advised not to seek shortcuts. For its own survival in the long run there is a dire need for it to dig deep and get its act together — in opposition.

The writer is Editor Pique Magazine based in Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]


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