Pakistan's oldest political force now a rudderless ship

It has been nearly seven months since the last general elections in Pakistan with the winners and losers and those falling between amply clear to all.

Surely, this is more than enough time to have taken stock of what went wrong, or right, for the parties concerned and for them to shortlist their respective heroes and villains.

There is little evidence available that this — stocktaking to plan ahead — has happened in the mainstream secular Pakistan People's Party (PPP) but one can be fairly certain that it basically hasn't as no meaningful reshuffling of leadership has taken place in most parties.

No plans going forward are being discussed or shared with the public. Could it be that this could be down to the fact that nearly all key parties — with the exception of the other secular parties, the Awami National Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement — have managed to win the spoils of varying electoral victories in the shape of government formation at the centre or the provinces, or the combination of the two, and, therefore, feel there's no need for introspection?

The corollary here being that if you are ensconced as government, why shake down the party and conduct an in-house accountability to attract unwanted public scrutiny?

But what's with the deafening silence in the PPP ranks? Its contentment with its home base in the Sindh province is baffling given their size, weight, influence and history.

Considering recent developments, it's easier to draw up a list of what they don't want than one of what they want.

For starters, they certainly don't seem to want to do anything until the next general elections and, which considering that Co-Chairman Asif Zardari is on record as telling Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that he should complete his tenure means PPP would rather do nothing for five years.

Is it that PPP is exhausted with politics having unexpectedly survived five years in government?

While this would certainly explain why PPP is bafflingly indifferent to the fact that local elections are being held and that one would imagine this is such an excellent opportunity to roll back the disappointments about the poor showing in large parts of the country — they have recorded the second worst electoral performance ever — and raise morale through the rigmarole of electoral mobilisation.
And yet, not only PPP performed spectacularly poor in Balochistan local elections held last month — a grand total of only 22 seats out of over 4,500. Contrast this with the JUI-F, PML-N, PKMAP and NP, which bagged between 700 and 1,200 seats apiece.

If this debacle is conspicuous by an absence of sound bites from within the PPP from either a leader or a worker, or even external comment about it from rivals (who almost seem to have expected the near-absence of PPP as even a contender), then even more perplexing is its near-ignorance and virtual absence of any activity about the fact that in the next few weeks there will be local elections in Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

So what's going on? PPP has always been in the forefront of opposing local elections held by the military but what happens when the first local elections are being held by civilians in living memory, including by its own government in Sindh?

Why would the 'largest' and probably the 'oldest' free political party in the country be so detached from an opportunity to reconnect with the voters that is as big an occasion if not bigger than the general elections?

Why let this opportunity to wrest back its footprint in the three provinces from where it has virtually been wiped out in terms of representation in both the National Assembly and the respective provincial legislatures go waste?

The answer may have something to do with the leadership issue in PPP. No-one really knows who's in charge of a party that polled  seven million votes in the May 2013 elections even if this was half the number it bagged in the preceding 2008 elections.

Is it Asif Zardari? But his leadership style is predicated on the principle of absence rather than presence. He hasn't called a chief executive council meeting to discuss future strategy of any kind after the elections.

About the only times he calls meetings are on the various anniversaries the party is fond of commemorating. He just seems to have gone into hibernation.

The author is a freelance contributor 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.


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