Opinion: PPP revival – a vain hope

WEB DESK: Pakistan People’s Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is in Lahore these days, ostensibly, to revive the party in the largest population province, Punjab, where it faced almost complete rout in the last general elections. He has made some important appointments to senior party positions.

That is not going to be of any help unless the party recognises the reasons for its downfall in the province – once its stronghold – and makes amends.

There is no question about the fact that the rank corruption, incompetence and the so-called ‘conciliation’ policy that characterised Asif Ali Zardari’s five-year rule at the Centre and as the party’s boss in its over eight-year rule in Sindh has done the PPP grievous harm.

Those who set store by the party’s liberal leanings were saddened to see it look the other way as the Shia Hazaras were regularly massacred in Quetta. They were also to find the government giving a free hand to a coalition partner in Baluchistan for making retrogressive changes in school syllabi and establishing a number of new seminaries -breeding grounds of sectarian extremists.

Equally questionable was the Zardari government’s behaviour when Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated by Mumtaz Qadri. Instead of defending its man for taking the position he took staying within the confines of a philosophical or religious construct, senior party leaders descended on Lahore to create confusion by ascribing political motives to the murder.

The much-touted conciliation policy was basically a euphemism for unsavoury deal-making with political rivals both at the centre and in Sindh, and the result failure of Parliament to make any progress on instituting an effective accountability mechanism; and in the case of Karachi near complete breakdown of law and order. If one is to describe Zardari-led PPP rule in one word that would be misgovernance.

As a PML-Q leader Mushahid Hussain had aptly put it at the time, the Zardari government’s motto was “lutto te phutto [rob and run]”. Where Hussain went wrong though was that the co-Chairman (now party President) has had no intention to stay out of politics. He may have run away, yet he is the one who has been managing the party affairs from his self-exile. Sindh Chief Minister has been rushing to Dubai to seek guidance from him rather than Bilawal who, on his part, has gone along with his father’s policies demonstrating that either he lacks the will or the ability, or both, to understand what the people want. In order to reconnect with the party’s old support base, he needed to disassociate himself from the post-Benazir PPP policies and start anew, of which there is no sign of happening.

Leadership quality depends on the leader’s ability to convince the public that he/she recognises the issues and concerns confronting them and can address them too. In the present case, there is nothing to show that the top PPP leaders realise this, or even care about what the people think. Their chief concern remains protecting and promoting self-interest as well as helping corrupt cronies evade prosecution which is where the ‘mufahmat [conciliation]’ policy still comes in handy. Consequently, the Punjab PPP finds itself becoming more and more irrelevant in the province’s politics, and hence has been trying to have the party play a more effective role as a genuine opposition. The current Panama Papers scandal involving the Prime Minister and his family has put the issue of corruption in the front and centre of national politics.

Yet the party’s response is restricted to hemming and hawing. It doesn’t want to press the issue but can ill-afford to ignore the raging public controversy surrounding the scandal. Hence it has set out to create the impression it wants accountability while doing everything to deflect attention from the issue by laying the blame at the PTI’s door. Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Syed Khurshid Shah, and some others are harping on the PTI embarking on a solo flight – without offering an effective plan of their own for holding the PM to account-and also criticising Imran Khan for taking the case to the apex court-the ultimate arbiter. Meanwhile Bilawal, in a bid to suggest the PPP is not sitting around twiddling its thumbs, has come up with a four-point list of demands, only one of which is related to the issue at hand: passage of the Panama Bill drafted by the PPP, which even if passed will take forever to come to a logical conclusion. He has threatened to launch a campaign for an early election if the government does not accept his demands by December 27-just an empty threat.

At this rate, the PPP can forget the hopes of revival not only in Punjab but also in Sindh, which is undergoing significant political change. The MQM dominating urban constituencies for decades is in disarray while the PTI has managed to make some inroads in the province. For its electoral successes, the PPP has been relying on its land-owning members’ power to win rural constituencies. But these people are a fickle lot. Those of them with an eye on positions in the federal cabinet are likely to think they would be better off joining a party having greater prospects of forming government at the Centre.

As the PPP’s stock plunges further, others may also look for an alternative in the province as well. Clearly, the party has failed to see what its sympathisers and impartial observers could see and hoped Bilawal would be his own man and reenergize the PPP with a new vision. But like his father he seems to live in a state of delusive contentment. Sadly, for one of the country’s major parties, it is well on its way to being reduced to a small regional entity.


Source: Business Recorder