Of the three mainstream national parties hoping to win enough seats to form a likely coalition, Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which just finished a five-year term, is the odd one out. Both the pundits and hoi polloi are baffled at why it has not hit the campaign trail in its
For the country's largest — and actually only nationally represented political force in the last parliament — not to be even seen as a contender as if having given up is intriguing to say the least.
Hemmed in by security concerns, what is killing its prospects however, is its near faceless campaign after losing one prime minister to judicial outreach, and carrying the baggage of his dubious replacement, but it is highly inconceivable for a student of Pakistani politics to associate electoral surrender with the PPP.
All that we have seen thus far is a squeamish campaign restricted to a few TV adverts and an uninspiring recorded speech of its 24-year-old chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, whose body language, just gave the party's current level of fidgety confidence away. He has now left for abroad and won't be home for the elections.
Even the paid TV content is mostly driven by negative energy. Leave alone detractors, of which there is no dearth, it makes even loyalists question the protracted state of mourning in whipping up sepia tones of frenzied reaction to the assassination of her mother, twice former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, five-and-a-half years ago. The unkindest cut of all has been a tribute song, which has been trailed to the disbursement of the notorious secret funds, a disclosure of which was made recently in a list handed by the Ministry of Information to the Supreme Court.
Ironically, mournful Benazir eulogies make the spectacular failure of the PPP government led by Asif Zardari, her widower and the sitting president, to bring the culprits to book even more pronounced and painful for party loyalists.
Not a single campaign ad features President Asif Zardari, which is ironical considering both the party and detractors concede his shrewd stewardship helped it complete a full term. In actual terms however, he may have contrived to bring it to its current sorry pass after focal energies of his government were spent trying to dither and dodge on the Swiss letter — ordered written by the Supreme Court to reopen previously quashed cases of corruption against him under a power-sharing deal with ex-strongman Musharraf — for a good three years.
From what one has gathered from several interactions recently, including party sources and independent analysts, it isn't that the PPP leadership is unaware of the general discontent with its just ended five-year rule, it's the pitfalls of what awaits the next government that has forced it to resign itself to a stint in the opposition.
The emotive adverts, one has learnt, are not a rallying cry for re-election at the Centre; rather, these are directed at the party cadres in general, and those in the Sindh province, in particular, to secure home turf. The southern province is the only one where the party thinks it has a safe bet despite the convergence of an opposition alliance — and, at least on paper, a clutch of seats in southern Punjab.
To be fair to the PPP, the democratic transition that will hopefully, manifest itself soon in the change of hands from one elected government passing the baton to an interim set-up for onward succession by another elected government, did not come to pass easily.
Where the PPP failed however, and like none else before it, was in good governance — some suggest, not without justification, there was no governance at all — with the result that the average Pakistani has had a miserable time coping with rising inflation, draining energy crisis which has literally, sapped his/her energy, and in a worst case scenario, even food insecurity.
The general decline in the standard of living contrasted with unending stories of massive corruption whose levels rose to abominable proportions in the last days of the government when there was a virtual free-for-all.
The massive unethical undertakings were visible in how ex-PM Raja Pervaiz Ashraf diverted massive public funds more than once to his constituency despite there being a bar on doing so by the Election Commission; the failed attempt to change the Capital Development Authority chairman to draw huge favours from his blue-eyed replacement; the swift approvals for dozens of CNG stations — all in a day's work — as well as disbursement of whopping sums to oblige allied MPs; the whimsical transfers and postings to queer the electoral pitch for vested interest and what not.
For a long time now, both friends and foes have acknowledged the sharp survival instincts of President Zardari. But perhaps, the quota of political tricks is now finally drying up, and the PPP may be reconciled to losing power — perhaps, with the consolation that it will be playing the opposition's role where it is traditionally, at home.
The writer is freelance journalist based in Islamabad. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.