Even though, PPP leadership making tall claims of getting majority in Punjab province but the ground realities telling the completely different story. The PPP stalwarts continued to ditch the party to join PTI in Punjab. PPP leadership was hoping to get some electables before the 2018 general elections to win some seats from Punjab. But the PPP is facing a completely contrary situation so far. PPP has lost five stalwart leaders in last few days.
The PPP leadership has failed miserably to revive the fortunes of the party in Punjab. The problem is that the party leadership is not ready to go back to the original radical programme of the party. Instead, it is trying to recover the ground through power politics and political manoeuvres. This strategy is not working so far but the leadership is not seems interested to change this strategy.
There are three major flaws or rather problems with present strategy. First, the party consider that the face of Bilawal Bhutto is enough to regain the lost support and ground in Punjab. The party leadership still believes that as a son of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed, Bilawal is in the position to attract and bring back the disgruntled voters who voted for PTI in 2013 elections. It is true that Bilawal is a new poster boy of the party and capable of pulling the crowd.
But his fresh face alone is not going to help the cause. Bilawal Bhutto needs new radical programme based on the original ideas of the party. Bilawal also needs strong, fresh and dynamic organisation at all levels. Bilawal can make come back with a radical programme and strong organisation.
The other problem with the current strategy is the absence of a youth strategy. The party leadership so far has no clue how to attract the youth population. The party clearly lack the programme and slogans to win the youth and specially educated urban youth. PPP cannot revive itself without winning the sizeable number of youth in the party. The young leader like Bilawal will not automatically attract the youth voters without addressing to their problems and issues.
The third problem is Asif Zardari’s perception in Punjab. He has been labelled as the most corrupt politician by the media for so long that its difficult to change this perception. Asif Zardari is not ready to take the back seat ad allow Bilawal to become an independent face of the party. Asif Zardari considers himself as the master of power politics and political manoeuvres but he is not man of public. He lacks the political charisma needed to lead popular party like PPP. Asif Zardari is not ready to accept this fact and continue to repeat the same mistakes.
The leadership is not realising that electables only join a certain party when they believe that this party is going to form the government or have enough vote bank to help them win the elections. PPP lack both the elements at the moment. The PPP’s strategy of reliance on local notables tends to ignore the fact that a local leader cannot win an election on his/her own. Thanks to the electronic media and other means of communication, party affiliations have seeped deep down into the rural areas. The party vote, combined with a candidate’s personal influence, makes a winning combination. Unless a political party has a solid vote-bank of around 30,000 in a National Assembly constituency of Punjab, the chances of it coming close to winning an election remain slim.
In the 2013 elections, the PPP faced a humiliating defeat in 146 out of 148 National Assembly constituencies in Punjab, with the party’s candidates languishing at the third or fourth positions. In Lahore – where the party, in its heyday, used to receive 40,000-plus votes in a national constituency – the tally had ebbed to merely a few hundred votes. Since then, the same trend has been witnessed in most by-elections.
In the last general election, a large segment of the traditional PPP voters swung to the PTI against the party’s calculation that Imran Khan would split the traditional right wing middle class votes of Nawaz Sharif. For the PPP, the writing was on the wall. It could no longer keep drawing on the goodwill generated by the ‘pro-poor’ image of Zulifqar Ali Bhutto and the martyrdom of Benazir Bhutto. Considering the anger against the corruption and mismanagement of its leadership, the party needed to approach the electorate with a new look. Bilawal is now providing that new look as the show-boy of the party while Asif Zardari is making key decisions and, more importantly, holding the wallet.
The PPP is not directly appealing to the general public through a popular, progressive and radical agenda, which was the bane of the party when it was the most popular political entity in the country. Today, the party does not stand for any socialist slogan that had distinguished it from other traditional parties in the 1970s. In the 1980s, the party stood for the restoration of democracy and earned an image of people’s power against the military’s dictatorial rule. Though Benazir’s support dwindled in Punjab, she continued to draw backing from a section of the population who viewed her as a liberal, social democratic and moderate politician as compared to the conservative Nawaz Sharif.
A major fact that is believed to have led to the sharp decline of the party’s status in Punjab after Asif Zardari seized its reins is the common perception about the corrupt practices of its leadership and the cycle of bad governance during its past tenure between 2008 and 2013. The people in Punjab still have memories of the PPP’s rule during which they suffered power outages of between 16 and 20 hours every day. No major development project was initiated during this period. In the 2013 elections, slogans championing the cause of democracy and civilian rule were no longer relevant and the party completely lost support in Punjab.
As for now, the PPP has little to show off except a young Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Otherwise, despite being in power in Sindh for the last ten years, the PPP has no worthwhile achievement to its credit. Instead, it carries the blemish of creating a mess of civic amenities in Karachi. The scenes of trash-filled streets of the provincial capital and the stories of its leaders’ alleged involvement in corruption have further spoiled the party’s image among the urban middle class.
The chances of the PPP’s renewal in Punjab could increase if Bilawal alone led the show while Asif Zardari and the old, discredited party leaders took the back seat or at least restrict themselves to other provinces. Bilawal holds promise in Punjab – especially for the low-income population which has been ignored by both the PML-N and the PTI – but a well-entrenched, unfavourable perception about the PPP leadership is likely to remain a drag for him.
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13 November, 2019