Father or son; which will it be?
During Zardari’s absence from Pakistan, the young chairman of the party made several uncompromising promises which he vowed to uphold to whatever the future political circumstances may be
The return of Asif Ali Zardari, the co-chariman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) back to Pakistan after an 18 month long self exile, has created a stir in the party’s ranks. Many are calling that the return of Zardari, who is also known as the wizard of Pakistani politics, may bring some positive change in the party’s political future. However, it’s unlikely that Zardari’s return will make a difference in the fate of PPP when it comes to putting together a team that could deliver in terms of electoral success in the next general elections. In fact, the former president’s return is likely to induce further divisions among the party’s top tier leadership.
“We have sacrificed much for the sake of democracy and politics to save Pakistan. We will not leave this Mughal emperor [Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif] to rule,” said Zardari after his return. During the same address he also announced that he along with Bilawal, who is also the chairman of the party, would contest elections to join the current parliament.
During Zardari’s absence from Pakistan, the young chairman of the party made several uncompromising promises which he vowed to uphold to whatever the future political circumstances may be. Among them was the aim to bring the current ruling party to justice in the case of Panama leaks and a resolve to lead the party with an aggressive outlook that could certify the PPP’s role as an opposition party, rather than all conventional non-existent opposition role which the organisation has been often accused of. Moreover, over the time, it has also become apparent that Bilawal has developed his own inner circle that perhaps doesn’t appreciate close aides of the co-chairman, who have harmed the party’s image to a great extent.
More than a year ago, Bilawal left Pakistan due to a conflict with his father on such issues. Reportedly, he only returned when he was promised non-interference in the party’s working approach. The new approach also involved the change of provincial leaderships of Punjab and Sindh provinces. Taking on the conservative lobby by passing progressive legislature in Sindh provincial assembly was also part of the new outlook.
Bilawal, while addressing a rally in Karachi a few months ago presented four demands to the government which involved the formation of a parliamentary committee on national security, the passage of PPP’s Panama bill, the implementation of the party’s resolution on the CPEC and an immediate appointment of a permanent foreign minister. Incase these demands were not met, Bilwal warned of agitation and protests.
All of these promises, however, have hit a roadblock in the last one week: the newly reported differences between the father and son may prove fatal for the party’s political future. The party is considering backtracking on the Anti Conversion bill that was passed into law a month ago. Reportedly, the planned long march and agitation incase the PML-N failed to fulfill Bilawal’s four demands, have also been pushed to the back burner. “This time, long march [to Islamabad] will not be staged but many small protest rallies and public meetings will be held in different cities, including the federal capital,” said the party’s spokesman, Senator Farhatullah Babar.
Reportedly, the party’s chairman is scheduled to spend a week in Dubai, leaving behind the party to his father. The development is reminiscent of Bilawal’s abrupt withdrawal from the country last year. The news of Bilawal’s appointment as the party’s opposition could not find conformation even after it was widely reported.
Perhaps Zardari’s return after a long period of exile is meant to lead the party the way he understands politics best: the former president wouldn’t mind shaking hands with political crooks if that gives his party some tactical leverage as far the next general elections are concerned.
But the recent developments and underlying confusion in this regard doesn’t bode well for the party. As I argued elsewhere: “the party doesn’t have sufficient credible political figures and heavyweights at its disposal that can lead it to any measureable success. After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto nine years ago, majority of the political figures that were committed workers of the party were either let go by the current leadership or became disillusioned with the party’s new political priorities. In Punjab, besides some handful of political personalities, there is no committed political figure left who can rally the masses around the party’s founding leadership message.”
The PPP’s Bilawal “trump card” has failed to perform as the organisation’s old leadership may have hoped for the country’s young generation doesn’t feel directly linked with PPP old age populist ideology that have come to define the party’s future. Above all, the party’s leadership’s inability to adapt to the country’s new political realities have buried the organisation’s future in national politics for the foreseeable future.