Two former ministers in the last Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government and two ex-Members of National Assembly have joined the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in the last few weeks and many more people from the party are ready to defect to Imran Khan’s party. It appears the PPP will not even be able to find candidates in the Punjab for the next election.
Former PPP Federal Minister from Mandi Bahauddin district, Nazar Muhammad Gondal, and his younger brother former PPP MNA Zulfiqar Gondal have announced joining the PTI, few days after another former PPP Federal Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan defected to that party. Few weeks ago, a former PPP MNA from Peshawar, Noor Alam Khan, announced his support to the PTI. The PPP leadership held meetings with them, even former President Asif Zardari called on Dr Firdous Ashiq to convince her not to leave the party, but could not stop her. According to reports, almost all top leaders of the PPP are expected to join the PTI ahead of elections after the policies of their party have made it impossible for them to take part in politics in the Punjab. Others who feel it undignified to break their long association with the party, may quit politics altogether.
In his reaction to the defections, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto said it was his party that had appointed the defectors to high posts during its last tenure and leaving of a few people would not affect the party. A large number of people have left the party, but the PPP leadership is still not willing to review its strategy. It will have to review its policy of being a toothless opposition and acting as a B team to the government to maintain its presence in the biggest province of the country. Some time ago, the PPP’s Okara chapter switched its allegiance to the PTI en bloc. A majority of former parliamentarians of the party from the Punjab believe the leadership failed to address their reservations despite many requests and the only option for them was to leave it for their survival in the future political landscape of the province. Several parliamentarians, who failed to win assembly seats in the last general election, accuse the party leadership of ignoring them due to their failure in the elections, while they faced alleged victimisation at the hands of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the province.
Some PPP leaders say the leadership has sacrificed the political interests of the party in the Punjab to save its interests in Sindh, which created panic among PPP leaders in the province. The PPP is not in power in the province but it still failed to play the role of a real opposition. It is why party representatives believe that they have become irrelevant to the PPP in the Punjab. Former PPP State Minister Syed Sumsam Ali Bokhari and Provincial Minister Ashraf Khan Sohna have already joined the PTI. They blamed PPP Co-Chairman Asif Zardari’s continued policy of conciliation with the ruling party in the Punjab had made them virtually redundant in the province’s political sphere and forced them to change sides.
Besides internal rifts, the party faces the biggest challenge to its existence from the PTI. Instead of the PPP, the PTI is seriously challenging the MQM in Karachi and the PML-N in the Punjab. The last few years saw a steep rise in the popularity of the PTI, the ruling party in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, for highlighting failures of the PPP government in Sindh and the PML-N governments at the Centre and the Punjab.
The PPP launched Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to revive its fortunes after a heavy drubbing in the last general election. He started his campaign with fiery speeches and bitter criticism of the MQM and the ruling PML-N. However, he failed to click because his party had made a bad bargain to support Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in exchange for his backing for PPP governments in Sindh, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan assemblies.
The PPP faces the toughest time in its history, as the PTI threatens to eliminate it in many areas, even its strongholds in interior Sindh and south Punjab. Its task becomes even more daunting when memories of poor governance of its last government at the Centre and Sindh are fresh. The PPP failed to deliver after a win in the 2008 elections. However, it was still not hurt too much. The most damaging point for the party came when it announced its support to the PML-N government after protests by Imran Khan and Dr. Tahirul Qadri in Islamabad. It failed to assess public sentiments and sided with the government which cost it dearly. The PPP was a heavy opposition in the Punjab until 2013. Now, the PTI has replaced it. The situation has dejected its workers and leaders and forced them to change their loyalties.
With the PPP bearing the brunt of what is dubbed the “PML-N friendship alliance” in the political crisis, the Punjab leadership of the party feels the chairman needs to focus attention on ignored and disgruntled workers in the country’s most important province. According to experts, it will have to adopt an aggressive policy against the PML-N, if it wants to avoid more losses. Asif Zardari’s image has been tainted among the masses for corruption charges. He should quit politics and allow his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to run the affairs of the party. In this way, the PPP can make seat adjustments with other parties in the Punjab. Even the PTI could be willing to make seat adjustments with it if its head is Bilawal, as a PPP, with Asif Zardari in command, will not be acceptable to any party. Rather, it will become a liability for other parties. He should leave politics for the survival of his party in the Punjab, otherwise the party will find it hard to find candidates for all constituencies in the province. Asif Zardari has harmed his party to such an extent that it has been confined to rural Sindh only and it will take the next two elections for its complete elimination from its home province.