The PPP and its Fu­ture

Be­fore re-in­vent­ing the party, Asif Ali Zardari must re-in­vent him­self.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - ‘wifaq ki zan­jeer’ By S.G. Ji­la­nee weltan­schau­ung

Does the PPP have what it takes to re­gain the sta­tus of a na­tional party?

Asif Zardari’s exit from the Pres­i­dent’s House had all the trap­pings of “Par­adise Lost.” For five years he had been liv­ing there se­cure as if in a co­coon. Now he is out un­der the open sky. His first trip, af­ter leav­ing of­fice, was to La­hore where he was greeted by party faith­ful with chants of “Wel­come, Wel­come,” and Aitzaz Ah­san stam­mer­ing two verses from the Qu­ran. Since then he has not been heard of. Nor, even, Bi­lawal.

Ap­par­ently they are busy pick­ing up the pieces while the party, cochaired by the fa­ther and son, lies flat on its face, trau­ma­tized by its rout in the last elec­tion, af­ter rul­ing the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal roost for more than four decades. There was a time when the party en­joyed mass sup­port in all the four prov­inces with the sta­tus of a truly fed­eral party. Be­nazir Bhutto was ap­pro­pri­ately called the chain that las­soed the fed­er­at­ing units. To­day, it has been re­duced to the level of a purely re­gional party, con­fined to ru­ral Sindh; the few seats it still re­tains in the Pun­jab do not al­ter the pic­ture.

The sit­u­a­tion raises the ques­tion that whether the last PPP stint in power was its swan song? Or can the Phoenix rise again? Does the party have what it takes to re­sume the sta­tus of a na­tional party? Party loy­al­ists op­ti­misti­cally re­call the PPP’s per­for­mance in 1997. That was even a worse de­ba­cle than now as it won only 16 Na­tional Assem­bly seats. In con­trast, the party won 33 NA seats in 2013. They also in­sist that the PPP’s ‘na­tional’ image re­mains in­tact and will enable it to bounce back.

But times have changed. The Bhutto fa­ther and daugh­ter were charis­matic lead­ers. Z.A. Bhutto was a pow­er­house of en­ergy. Berke­ley had formed his

and groomed him into a leader of men. In ad­di­tion, he col­lected a gal­axy of ded­i­cated peo­ple around him – peo­ple with proven tal­ent and hands that were squeaky clean, such as J.A. Rahim, Yusuf Buch, Hafeez Pirzada, Dr. Mubashir Hasan, Sheikh Rashid, et al.

Be­nazir was to ZAB what Indira Gandhi was to Nehru. At a young age she had met peo­ple like Henry Kissinger and Indira Gandhi in her fa­ther’s com­pany. Or­a­tory and the­atrics she in­her­ited from her fa­ther. Har­vard and Ox­ford added fur­ther sheen. And to sup­ple­ment it all was her own phys­i­cal charm. Just as ZAB could mes­mer­ize a mam­moth crowd, so could BB hold a mul­ti­tude in thrall. That was the “weapon” that helped the party’s re­bound af­ter the 1997 rout.

Cir­cum­stances also fa­vored the PPP. Both in 1970 and 1988 its thump­ing vic­to­ries were due as much to pop­u­lar dis­taste for pro­longed mil­i­tary rule as to the at­trac­tion of the party’s egal­i­tar­ian pro­grams.

The de­cline be­gan with Mr. Zardari’s de­but in govern­ment. Tancu Ciller and Mar­garet Thatcher did not al­low their spouses to in­ter­fere in gov­er­nance, nor did they give them any of­fice. The same ap­plies to An­gela Merkel of Ger­many and Dilma Rouss­eff of Brazil to­day. In con­trast, BB ap­pointed Mr. Zardari as a cabi­net min­is­ter, while also dis­tanc­ing her­self from her fa­ther’s loyal sup­port­ers.

Cor­rup­tion bur­geoned to such pro­por­tions that the New York Times pub­lished a spe­cial re­port ti­tled “House of Graft.” Mr. Zardari re­ceived the la­bel of “Mr. 10 per­cent” which be­came an in­stant in­ter­na­tional hit and still em­bla­zons his image like a tat­too.

Since he took charge of the party, the de­cline be­came steeper as tested stal­warts were re­placed by cronies and per­sonal loy­alty sub­sti­tuted party loy­alty. In sharp con­trast to ZAB, Zardari’s cabi­net boasted such peo­ple as Yusuf Raza Gi­lani and Raja Pervez Ashraf whose only ex­cel­lence was syco­phancy.

Sur­vival be­ing fore­most for Zardari, he fo­cused all his en­er­gies on se­cur­ing his flanks by keep­ing all po­lit­i­cal par­ties in good hu­mor, in­stead of spar­ing some mo­ments for a vi­able pub­lic agenda. In the May elec­tions,

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