The Pakistan People’s Party suffered its first major organisational setback on Wednesday when a number of prominent members, including former minister of state for information and a senior vice president of the party in Punjab, Samsam Bokhari, and former MPAs Ashraf Sohna and Ikramullah announced their decision to leave the PPP and join the PTI. The development comes as no surprise, though. In fact, more people are expected to follow suit in the days to come. There have been rumblings of discontent in the party for quite some time because of the leadership’s policies and style of functioning. Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari’s policy of reconciliation, which essentially meant making compromises to stay in power without a thought about what once used to be seen as an issues-oriented progressive liberal party, did considerable harm. If that created a sense of alienation among the usual PPP jiyalas, like Ashraf Sohna has been, the co-Chairman hardly ever bothered to stay in touch with the party’s traditional support base in the province. Most of the leaders and their workers found themselves to be elbowed aside by outsiders, which generated a lot of resentment. Hence, the most recent party meeting Zardari presided over in Lahore last winter after a long absence ended up in a fight between the old and new factions of the party.
What further exacerbated the situation has been the continuation of the reconciliation policy following the 2013 elections despite the fact that the party faced a rout in Punjab, which called for a policy rethink and also a more proactive role in the province’s politics. Samsam Bokhari summed up the prevailing mood in his statement to the media saying “over the last two years, we have been feeling like the PML-N’s B-team, which was totally against the PPP ideology.” The PPP in Punjab felt completely sidelined with almost no role to play, which caused disappointment at every level of the party. These people are career politicians and hence were not going to go on sitting around twiddling their thumbs. They needed to secure their political future with a party that offered a chance to stay in the game. Notably, while participating in a TV discussion the day of desertions, former federal minister Qamar Zaman Kaira openly admitted that the party is passing through a very difficult time. Another important leader, Nadeem Afzal Chan, termed the event “a serious development that cannot go unnoticed”.
Things being what they are, little is expected to change by way of policy, although Kaira and Raja Pervez Ashraf have been tasked by the leadership at a special meeting called by Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in Karachi last Thursday to deal with the situation to woo the disgruntled leader back to get the party back on its feet in the largest province. Besides, the young Chairman hardly knows the party workers and leaders to be able to settle the organisational matters and mobilise the party to win back its traditional support base. Sadly, the popularity of PPP in Punjab – which also happens to be its birthplace and once a stronghold – is on a constant downward slide with little promise of revival. A rump PPP will maintain its presence in the province for the foreseeable future sans the ideology and the jiyala culture which made it the people’s party.