‘We have done miracles in the past’
Sure, these are hard times for the party. We have not been strong in Punjab since the last general election. But that does not mean we must not try to revive ourselves. Obviously any party overhauling itself will cast a shadow on the overall election picture and other parties and their fortunes
It took a fair time coming, but PPP’s game plan is finally out; and it’s pretty much what was expected. They didn’t have much to choose from really. All eyes were naturally on Punjab. That’s where they were worst routed in ’13. And that’s where they are, quite rightly, concentrating the bulk of their energies for the next general election.
That the old guard was on its way out was street knowledge for some time now. And who better than Kaira to head Punjab? Some mentioned Chan (now new general secretary) as the likely candidate about a year ago. But then all the talk of revival, restructuring, etc, fizzled out once again, just like the year before.
This time around, though, they simply did not have the luxury of time. The election was just a year-and-a-half away. And Bilawal had not even been properly launched. Sure they catapulted him to the top around the time of the ’14 PTI dharna. But that was a quick reaction to an unforeseen development. It seemed then, for the briefest moment, that the so-called tsunami might really wash the government away. And worse come to worst, they didn’t want to be found wrongfooted, especially in Punjab, once again. That explains why they launched Bilawal so suddenly and backed the government at the joint session at the same time.
Now, though, there’s no reaction, only carefully calculated action. The target, of course, is the next big election. And since whoever takes Punjab takes the game, it made good political sense to shift the anniversary celebrations and Bilawal’s formal launching of the campaign to Lahore. This is, like PPP old timers and analysts don’t tire of mentioning these days, where the party started after all.
All eyes will, no doubt, be on Bilawal in the coming days. But Bilawal’s eyes will be squarely on Kaira. The talk about new ideas, young team, fresh blood, etc, is fine. But PPP regaining Punjab anytime soon seems as unlikely as any political impossibility right now. Kaira said upon the nomination that he’d begin by wooing disgruntled old members, most of whom have hopped onto the PTI bandwagon, back into the party fold by the election. But when DNA spoke to some of them – like Raja Riaz and Ashraf Sohna – they didn’t seem too interested, or wouldn’t let it on to the press if they were.
Beyond that, little has come out about the plans about the immediate future so far. So DNA talked exclusively to the new PPP Central Punjab President himself, Mr Qamar Zaman Kaira.
Q: Some analysts say PPP dragged its feet on the revival, especially in Punjab, a little too long. Now the best it can do is further strengthen PML-N by splitting the opposition vote. Do you agree?
Qamar Zaman Kaira: I don’t know which analysts are saying this. Each party works for its own strength. Nobody plans for an election to support a rival party. PPP was and is the largest political party in the country. It has its own standards. And it has its own pockets of strength. We are going to target and expand these pockets of strength to build momentum all the way to the election.
Sure, these are hard times for the party. We have not been strong in Punjab since the last general election. But that does not mean we must not try to revive ourselves. Obviously any party overhauling itself will cast a shadow on the overall election picture and other parties and their fortunes. But that is normal democratic politics. Why is his so surprising for these analysts you mentioned?
I’m sure these are those over-eager friends of ours who found favour with PTI, or think the only opposition is PTI. But they don’t realise PTI has already disappointed people time and time again with its u-turns and empty rhetoric.
Q: Could you tell a little about this process of revival?
QZK: The chairman has begun spelling out his mission. Of course he had to start by installing a new team. His choices are already reflecting the direction he intends to take.
For now he is busy re-organising the party all the way to the district level. The grassroot has always been PPP’s core strength. So the next few days and weeks are very important. There’s still one-and-a-half years to go. This party has worked miracles in the past. I don’t doubt we’ll be able to turn things around again. We just held a seven-day function with just five days of preparation. The party will be very proactive from here.
The chairman will spell out the rest of his mission and manifesto on Dec27.
Q: Bilawal Bhutto’s Dec27 deadline for the four-points is not very far. Yet it’s not clear if the government is taking it too seriously. Should push come to shove, is the Punjab chapter prepared for protests?
QZK: Of course the Punjab chapter is ready. Again, if we can hold such elaborate functions at such short notice, we can also organise protests and rallies. And it’s not as if PPP is any stranger to protests and agitation. Of course we are in the middle of a very important re-organisation of the party, but there’s no reason we cannot do both things side by side.
The party restructuring and preparation for the election will continue as planned. And whenever there’s a call for protests by the leadership, we will incorporate it in the things to do as well. We stand ready for a very strong protest at any time.
On Tuesday our committee will hold its first meeting to gauge the government’s pulse on the matter. They seem ready to accept three demands – staying away from the fourth till it’s in the courts – so we’ll know more soon enough.
For now we are concentrating our energies on reorganising ourselves. We have a tough task ahead of us, and we understand the significance of Punjab in the greater scheme of things
Q: You said one of your first tasks would be wooing back disgruntled former members, most of whom have joined PTI. When we spoke to some of them they did not show much interest. Have you encountered a similar reaction?
QZK: You seem in a greater hurry than us. Your questions indicate a sense of urgency that even we don’t feel. We are not so hasty, that is why we are not rushing this.
Yes we are approaching some of our old friends. But unlike you and some PTI members, we do not concentrate only on ‘electables’. PPP is all about grassroots. So that is where you’ll find us more active.
Q: The press has been abuzz with talk of an alliance with PTI. Could there be something in the offing despite the ritual hostility? Or has Imran already thrown that idea out the window with his minus-one condition?
QZK: Alliances are part and parcel of democratic politics. We can never rule them out. But when they do take place they are based on principles and interests, never on dictation. It’s not just PPP, if PTI wants to force its demands to make alliances, it will find very few friends with time.
We are not ruling out any alliance in the buildup to the election. But as yet we are not confirming any either. There’s no serious talk about it so far.
For now we are concentrating our energies on regoranising ourselves. We have a tough task ahead of us, and we understand the significance of Punjab in the greater scheme of things.
Q: The issue of Panama Leaks has already dragged on for more than half a year. Do you expect any justice now that the honourable court has taken up the matter?
QZK: It is not very smart to expect too much from the courts in this matter. That is why we advised PTI to legislate first. Now with the chief justice retiring, a new bench will be formed, and the case will drag even further. We could have hoped for better. The CJ is not due to retire till the 30th. Perhaps we could have seen a greater sense of urgency on the judiciary’s part.
It is our experience that political cases should be solved through the political process, not through courts. The legal process does not work according to the wishes of the people. That is what the political process is designed for. For now, though, this story will continue and we have no option but to sit and watch it unfold.