The PPP’S trump card

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Hus­sain H Zaidi

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.

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