The party is not over, but staring at a long stretch in the wilderness
Last summer during an interview with the-then interior czar Rehman Malik at his posh residence in Islamabad’s Ministers’ Enclave, I ventured to ask him how would Pakistan People’s Party fare in its first ever Bhutto-less avatar at this year’s hustings.
It was a calibrated last poser, which upset the closest confidante of the Bhutto family of the last decade a great deal. He questioned my question, and rambled on about the sacrifices of the “party of martyrs” and how “everyone was a Bhutto” in the party.
I insisted, pointing to how the party had always boasted of the charismatic appeal – even in the physical absence of an exiled Benazir – of a Bhutto at the helm. Also mentioned was the inexperience of a still not poll-eligible Bilawal to man the oldest – and richest legacy – in Pakistan’s politics. As well, he was reminded that this would be the first time the party would not benefit from a sympathy vote.
An unconvincing Malik resorted to the familiar sycophantic refrain of how President Zardari would guide the ship home, but parried the appended question about the possibility of PPP pitching son Bilawal for ‘emotional appeal’ as part of the campaign.
Fast forward. The party, which enjoyed an unmatched run in power – 1970, 1977, 1988, 1993 and 2008 – lies in tatters. Even though its current strength of 41 seats in the National Assembly is not its worst performance in terms of the tally as is mistakenly assumed, it is notable for the annihilation it has suffered on the broader scale – reduced from being the only true nationally represented force with a coalition government in all the provinces bar Punjab (where, too, it was in coalition for a better part of the five-year term with PML-N) and at the Centre to now being home alone in Sindh.
Even its much pampered ally, the unreliable MQM, is now refusing to break bread with it (till last reports came in)!
So who or what has been the harbinger of doom? This is where the fare gets murkier, and sadly not because of any external factors. In fact, it reads like the Oracle of Delphi.
Consider. For a full term, Asif Zardari held the ship together with some wizardry – employing the bequeathed political legacy of his late spouse aka ‘reconciliation’ (which, he neatly turned into a winning strategy to keep all hungry wolves in one shed) and pluck borne out of strong intuition.
Not everyone even within the PPP knew what the boss was up to, but few bothered with details since it was assumed he had a treasure trove of ideas to wriggle out of any tight situation.
And while power gives birth to a breed of admirers who see no wrong, even his detractors nodded in grudging acknowledgement of his deft hand. One such oldie is Javed Hashmi, who famously deduced that one needed a PhD to understand Zardari’s politics.
To the president, all this may have been par for the course to negotiate the sharp bends of a road less traveled, but the Achilles’ heel was Zardari’s own fortune (in Swiss terms). The festering wound was his highly personalized bid – for which he used the party and government’s time and resources – to protect himself from any legal action.
It is another matter if a hostile judiciary appeared to be in overreach in what the PPP itself saw as a concerted campaign to bring the house down. What cannot be denied is that the president wittingly or unwittingly contributed to the party wasting precious time and as a direct consequence, virtually forgot about governance.
The legendary, if unflattering tales, of endemic corruption contrasted sharply with the worst possible life and times of an average Pakistani, who struggled to cope with the onslaught of inflation, insecurity and a still draining energy crisis.
To cut a long story short, the PPP of Zardari was too busy manning the presidential gates – and simultaneously, keeping the coalition enterprise happy – to care for a decent future plan. They lived like there was no tomorrow, and it is now apparent to all and sundry that it is indeed the most likely prognosis: there being no tomorrow.
The president’s belated attempt to explain the election rout as the result of a conspiracy hatched by the ‘national and international establishment’ reeks of a poor ‘wag-the-dog’, if flailing, stunt. The fact is the party had virtually given up the fight towards the end of its term.
To be fair to the PPP, it was at the receiving end of security threats like the other two mainstream secular parties, but many of its leaders in the ‘spared’ Punjab province, too, didn’t hit the campaign trail. Even Bilawal’s videospeak, too little, too late as it was, from Dubai fell flat, inviting ridicule instead of the resurgent note some wisecrack in the party had presumed it would impart.
In what must rank as a terrible insult to the memory of late Benazir, one of the tribute songs that formed part of the uninspiring television campaign was reportedly linked to the notorious secret funds whose list was issued by the Supreme Court days before the election!
Any hopes of a resurrection since then have been met by Zardari’s refusal to pass on the baton to untainted but utterly younger leaders. The appointment of Mithu Baba – as the octogenarian Qaim Ali Shah is called by his party folks – as Sindh chief minister for a third time is a stark manifestation of the old, dull and feeble order.
Even the much hyped alternative, Owais Muzaffar, the president’s foster brother – known to have run the province like a de-facto CM and facing charges of land grabbing and extortion – is hardly a source of inspiration for a party staring at a long stretch in the wilderness.
More misfortunes may be in store once Zardari leaves the Presidency, and with it the coveted immunity that, ironically has been the undoing of the PPP. So abject is the self-created descent, even rivals feel sorry for the party.
The writer is Editor Pique Magazine based in Islamabad. He can be reached [email protected]
Let us hope that PPPP can learn SOME lesson and serve the poor Sindhis and Muhajirs!!!
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