As the term of the sitting government is about to end, different political parties are holding rallies and making high-sounding claims about their victories in the general elections. Both PTI and PML-N are in the limelight for being the major contestants at this point, especially in Punjab. But it is interesting to see how realistic are the claims of the PPP leadership about giving a surprise in the upcoming elections. Are these just an election gimmick or has there been an improvement in the party’s standing?
These questions become highly relevant in the context of PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto’s assertion that the party is getting stronger by the day in South Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
The instrumental role of PPP in Senate elections, its success in KP by-polls, victory of PPP-backed trade unions in this year’s elections in PIA and CDA, fragmentation of MQM, expulsion of MPAs by PTI, inclination of MNAs from FATA are some factors that show they are going to gain electorally, the party leadership claims. On the basis of these, it claims PPP will be in a position to play a decisive role in forming the government even if it is not able to win majority.
Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, also the party’s information secretary in Punjab, says the allegations of corruption against the party were the most damaging ones and “a major cause why the party could not perform well outside Sindh in the last elections”. Besides, he says, “there was the incumbency factor that went against us”.
Khokhar says, “The situation is different now as those accused of corruption like Hamid Saeed Kazmi have been declared innocent by the courts and the decisions to cancel Rental Power Plants, Reko Diq etc proved wrong by international arbitrators.” Today those propagating against the PPP are themselves being prosecuted for corruption.
Khokhar says the PPP backed unions’ victory in PIA and CDA elections is highly significant as the sitting government has extraordinary influence here and it is next to impossible to defeat the unions having its support. No doubt their victory in PIA elections shows that workers reject PML-N government’s plan to privatise state owned institutions and make countless people jobless. He hopes “this sentiment will prevail among the working class throughout the country and help PPP as it was the party that gave people jobs, raised their salaries and initiated programmes like BISP”.
Journalist and political analyst Suhail Warraich believes “the party might stand to gain in Sindh and Karachi due to MQM’s fragmentation but not much in Punjab where it has a handful of strong contestants like Makhdoom Ahmed Mahmood and Yousaf Raza Gillani. The group of independent members raising the slogan of a separate South Punjab province is more likely to join PTI than PPP as the former appears to be a “favourite” in the upcoming elections in his opinion”.
Warraich predicts the PPP will have 40 to 50 seats in the National Assembly from a total of 272 general seats. “Around 50 seats under the control of the powerful circles of the country will be instrumental in forming the government. These seats will go in favour of the party that has the support of these circles,” he says.
Former PPP MNA Chaudhry Manzoor challenges this perception and points out that the real test of PTI will start when they start awarding tickets to their candidates. As there are multiple heavyweights and aspirants in every constituency, he says, “those unable to secure tickets will feel deprived and go against the interest of the party — expect another round of defections in the party at that time.”
Contrary to Warraich’s claims, party sources share they have set the target above 70 seats in the National Assembly. In addition to the seats they have in this setup and do not risk losing, the PPP is eyeing all the twelve seats of FATA where elections will be held for the first time on party basis. The party has a few seats in KP where they have won two by-elections and lost one with just around 500 votes. The independents in South Punjab, a few in Upper Punjab where they have candidates like Raja Pervez Ashraf and even in Balochistan where PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari claims to have enough “influence”, are all PPP seats, the partymen are confident. The Functional League is almost dysfunctional in Interior Sindh that may further increase PPP’s strength by a couple of seats.
The party thinks the MPAs expelled by PTI will join it as they had supported it in the Senate elections. The optimism about support from FATA MNAs is for the reason that it was PPP that had given them the right to contest as candidates of political parties instead of contesting as independent candidates. It also expects the electables in PTI who do not get PTI tickets may opt to join the PPP rather than PMLN which is a sinking ship.
Despite all this, PPP is termed by opponents a party that does politics of personalities and does not have an issue-based plan. It is also called an entity that sells the names of its slain leaders.
Manzoor tries to dispel this impression and shares they are coming with a comprehensive plan this time. “Increasing employment, reviving industry and boosting the agriculture sector will be our focus because these were neglected altogether by the PMLN government,” he adds.
He however agrees that despite all these factors “it is a big challenge for them to get this message across in such a short time”.
While PPP is upbeat at the moment, things are not up for grab really as there are other players in the field as well. For example, MQM has taken PPP as a threat especially after its April 29 congregation in their once stronghold and decided to organise a bigger show there.
Similarly, it faces competition in other parts of Karachi and Hyderabad where it is eyeing general seats. Abdul Qayyum Kundi, a potential PTI candidate in NA 249 Karachi, says his party as well as PML-N is targeting the five seats in Karachi West and it will not be easy for PPP to capture these. “Here new delimitations have put the already cornered MQM in an even weaker position because several Mohajir-majority areas have been shifted to other constituencies.”