The PPP’S trump card
WHAT’S the PPP’s trump card as it goes into the upcoming elections? The Sindh card? Not really. The PPP government’s performance during the last five years? Not in the slightest. The party’s avowed contribution to democracy? Not in the least. The ‘electables’ the party boasts of? Not quite. Imran Khan? Yes.
To many the proposition that Imran Khan, the cricketerturned-philanthropist-turned politician, is the PPP’s trump card in the coming polls will seem without substance. For supporters of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) the very idea may be outrageous. Nevertheless, a case can be made in support of this proposition.
The total number of National Assembly seats is 342, including 60 reserved for women and 10 for the minorities. Out of the 272 general seats, Punjab has 148 seats, which gives the province a share of 54.41 percent. Punjab’s lion’s share in National Assembly seats makes it the real battleground for political parties scrambling for power.
Until quite recently, Punjab’s politics was dominated by two political parties, the PPP and the PML-N. The emergence of Imran Khan as a force to reckon with on the national scene, particularly in Punjab, marked the completion of the political triangle. Now, the major contestants in the province are the PPP, the PML-N and the PTI. Whichever of the three contestants wins the majority of seats in Punjab is likely to form the next federal government.
What’s most remarkable about the forthcoming elections from the PPP standpoint is that only for the second time in its 45-year history will the party go to the polls on the basis of its performance. The 1970, 1988, 1990, 1997, 2002 and 2008 electoral battles were fought by the PPP either as a challenger to the status quo or as a party wronged by the establishment. When a party is cast in such a role, it wins a great deal of public sympathy in our part of the world.
The 1993 polls were contested by the PPP as a friend of the establishment after Nawaz Sharif, the PML leader and an erstwhile blue-eyed boy of the powers that be, had fallen out with his mentors. The 1977 polls were contested by the PPP on the basis of its performance, as the party had been in the saddle since 1971. The PPP swept aside its opponents, but only amid charges of massive rigging.
After 36 years, the PPP is again taking part in the elections on the basis of its performance. Having completed its five-year tenure, the party can’t validly aver that it has been wronged by the establishment, that its government was shown the door prematurely, and that it couldn’t complete its agenda because its life was cut short. Yes, Asif Ali Zardari and his party men maintain off and on that they reigned but didn’t rule, and that the media and judicial ‘interference’ prevented them from delivering to the people. However, such claims are meant only to cover up their incompetence and bad governance.
In fact, ‘dismal’ is the word that can best describe the PPP government’s performance. Whether it’s law and order or the economy, state finances or working of public-sector enterprises, the government has cut a sorry figure. It’s not that the ruling party tried and failed. Rather, it didn’t apply itself at all to governing in an efficient and responsible manner. If one is to look for an example of a laissez-faire government, the present PPPled coalition will be the most convenient choice. With such a poor scorecard, the party can hardly sell its performance to the electorate. It has to look somewhere else. But where?
Traditionally, the PPP has relied on the ethnic card (Sindh) to attract voters and it will continue to do so. The PPP remains the most popular party in interior Sindh and it will be an uphill task for Nawaz Sharif and his allies from Sindh to create a big dent in the PPP’s vote bank. That said, even a clean sweep in interior Sindh will not substantially serve the PPP’s cause if it doesn’t perform well in Punjab. Winning elections is essentially a matter of numbers and Punjab has the highest number of seats. So, back to Punjab.
If the recent surveys are to be taken as credible, the PMLN is the most popular political party in Punjab and is set to steal the electoral show in the province, particularly in the central and northern regions. In southern Punjab, also known as the Seraiki Belt, a tough fight with the PPP is likely. “Not so fast,” the supporters of Imran Khan will say. Punjab will be a spectacle of a triangular fight and the final outcome is anybody’s guess. It’s time, therefore, to turn to the skipper.
Imran Khan has been in politics for one-and-a-half decade but has only recently established his credentials as a popular leader. Khan shares some traits with other leaders. Like MQM leader Altaf Hussain, he represents the educated urban middle class and is far bigger than his party. And just as in the PPP, the Bhuttos or their spouses have held sway, the PTI since its birth has known only one leader and is likely to persist with him in the foreseeable future.
However, it is the PML-N that Imran Khan’s party resembles most closely. Both are parties of the right. Both draw their support mainly from the urban middle class of Punjab province. Both are either virtually non-existent in Sindh and Balochistan, or have a very shallow penetration there, and have a rather narrow support base in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Both parties, at least in theory, are strong exponents of the independence of the judiciary and judicial activism. Both regard corruption as Pakistan’s foremost problem.
Both parties reject external (read American) intervention in the domestic affairs of Pakistan. Both preach self-reliance and call for breaking the begging bowl, turning down foreign aid and safeguarding national sovereignty, come what may. Both look down upon Pakistan’s role of a frontline state in the war against terror, brush aside a military solution to the militancy and insist on negotiations with the Taliban.