Asif Ali Zardari’s return, it seems, was only the first step in a larger plan; to come back to a country on the cusp of political change is a Machiavellian move. Yet, to come back to a country on the cusp of change, and be effective in directing that change, is more than just a political maneuver- some would call it downright ingenious.
Since before his return, under Bilawal’s fiery leadership, PPP has not only revamped its image from the ashes of yesteryears but has also rehabilitated itself on the national landscape. First as the democratically elected winner in 2008, and then as a formidable opposition in PML-N’s current term. While over time PPP had become synonymous with ‘poor governance, nepotism, and corruption’, it has since distanced itself from the brunt of those allegations. For now, PML-N stands represented. But despite the party’s notorious past, its continuous stronghold in Sindh coupled with its undeniable voice in the National Assembly has given PPP legitimate skill, understanding, and experience to launch a fresh political campaign right before the next general elections in 2018.
PPP’s approved comprehensive strategy includes public meetings, political steering, and seat to seat adjustment- especially in Punjab- Pakistan’s electoral hub and a sure shot tactic to jolt the political establishment into action. It is clear that the party is gearing up to give a tough time to the ruling party PML-N, while at the same time generating its own political power; Zardari holds the reigns of background planning, but Bilawal will remain the front that will address political rallies and public meetings. It is under this new direction that PPP has come out swinging at the federal government, blaming it for the ‘weak federation’ the state of Pakistan has become.
Furthermore, the party will launch a street campaign with the twin objective to mobilize its workers, and regain its lost prestige in a province better known as the bastion of power. It has to seek a new birth after a sore disgrace in the last general elections held in 2013. Before that the party was in power for five years, winning on sympathy vote after the assassination of its leader Benazir Bhutto. Yet during the five years, it did little for the country, for which it might still to pay heavy price.
But as things stand now, using the august platform of the National Assembly, the leader of the opposition recently lambasted the government for its tepid and often unreliable stint in power, quoting weak policies and an absence of political will as a cause. The criticism included suppression of an authentic Sindhi and Balochi voice from the federal table, absence of resources and acute load shedding in provinces apart from Punjab, feeble economic policies and rising prices, and to top that the imminent issue of the Panama Case.
It is resoundingly clear that PPP will take advantage of the current government’s weaknesses. But more importantly, the party will exploit a political void that has since emerged in Punjab. PTI and PML-N seem to be tied in the battle of wills, with both sides expending great energy and resources. It only makes sense for a third party to step into a gaping political hole and address issues that the common man can understand and relate to.
More importantly, under the auspices of development, it has become more imperative for provinces to have a stake in the share of benefits. The reality of CPEC has carefully been crafted under what some would call an exclusively PML-N agenda. By redirecting the focus, PPP aims to generate debate on the current state of resources, its equitable distribution, and a dearth in its capacity that includes an acute shortage of electricity. Punjab remains assertive in directing these resources, and it is this monopoly the current thrust of PPP is aimed at.
On the other hand, the party’s own performance in Sindh is not credible enough to be paraded as an election slogan. In truth, up until the Rangers operation in Karachi, the economic hub was under dire need of political, social, and economic reevaluation. With MQM’s weakened position, PPP’s hand in the province’s and its capital’s descent into crime, kidnapping, ethnic divides, and a failing law and order situation had become even more obvious. For now there seems to be an uncomfortable balance between the Rangers and the ruling government in Sindh, but what is even more blatant is how this balance has made it possible for Zardari to not just return to Pakistan, but also (in spirit) seem to toe the security establishment’s line. PPP’s recent support for a reestablishment of military courts speaks volumes of that.
In the next year, PPP’s aggressive strategy to conquer the political mindset of Punjab will be an interesting feat to follow. As public institutions, federal governments, and political parties are garnering more and more attention, PPP aims to use the very same platforms to maneuver itself into a more advantageous position. If nothing else, this grand move is at least reflective of a new wave of political thinking, displaying much needed but often lacking maturity.