Now That It Is Back In Power, What Will The PPP Do?

The people of Sindh have given a mandate to the PPP. But it would be premature to conclude whether or not the mandate in question is a result of the healing touch.

Now That It Is Back In Power, What Will The PPP Do?

The people of Sindh have spoken. And they have spoken loudly in terms of giving a mandate to the Pakistan Peoples Party in the province. By bagging 84 seats in the Sindh assembly, the PPP has emerged as the single largest party. And it is in a position of forming a government in the province without cajoling others. This landslide victory is the fourth consecutive win for PPP.

Best election campaign 

In electoral politics, mobilising both party workers and voters counts a lot, and at the end of the day, it does ensure dividends. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has charisma and electoral competency. On the heels of his campaign, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari the crowd-puller started his electoral campaign vigorously to canvass support for the candidates fielded by the PPP. He addressed large political jalsas across Pakistan and thus becoming the only mainstream political leader who launched a nationwide campaign.

He earned accolades for this federal fervour from admirers and critics alike. He and his sister Asifa Bhutto also addressed political jalsas in district headquarters of Sindh including workers conventions. This activated both local political leaders and partymen to reach out to voters.

On February 8 2024 Elections, the PPP regained some lost constituencies across Pakistan, and it harvested a bumper electoral crop in its stronghold Sindh. PPP's heavy mandate in Sindh is accused by the political opponents to have been manipulated i.e rigged. This calls for scrutiny i.e impartial analysis.

PPP leadership believes that politics is mathematics. The untiring electoral political activity accompanied by roping in electables ensured quality results. The PPP leadership was successful in roping in some electables before the election which subsequently ensured an easy win for its candidates. 

The influential Mahar tribes of Ghotki and Shikarpur districts affiliated with GDA in previous election, were said to be posing electoral upsets hence the PPP leadership cajoled them to join PPP. Even Larkana- based PTI senator Saifullah Abro announced to support PPP candidates in the recently held polls. 

Whenever intra-party cracks emerged with various party influentials getting no party tickets, the PPP leadership rushed to them and was successful in winning those disgruntled party leaders. The political opponents of PPP like the GDA in the province can be called political shepherds without much political flock. The concentration of PQM vote base, though dwindling, is limited to Karachi and Hyderabad. 

Political parties under the umbrella of GDA are much ado about nothing when it comes to be voted to power corridors. In 2018, Moazzam Abbasi, the nephew of the PPP leader -turned opponent Safdar Abbasi, was elected on the GDA platform from Larkana constituency on the provincial seat. After having stayed for around four years in the Sindh assembly, he resigned saying he was of no help to his constituency. Let us not forget that the dynamics of power politics are very instrumental in every context. 

A political party that remains in power does have an edge over the political party not voted to power. However, alleged manipulation in the electoral process especially in Karachi can't be ruled out as the mandate kept changing hands in recent years. Electoral miracles do occur in the city; PTI swept in 2018, but now the MQM regained various lost constituencies.

It would be premature to conclude whether or not the mandate in question is a result of the healing touch.

Leaving Karachi, there were no powerful political rivals in terms of vote count fielded against PPP candidates. Allegations of manipulation exposed by political opponents in Sindh are ridiculous. What was the electoral performance in local bodies' election of those accusing manipulation in provincial polls? Local bodies elections whose whole edifice stands on local influence and is much easier than provincial and NA elections.

PML N and PTI neglect Sindhis 

PML N and PTI have never given political patronage to their party workers belonging to Sindh; they both continue to support a small chunk of Urdu-speaking partymen of Karachi only. This is the reason why the footprints of the two political parties in question remain tied to an ethnic community of urban centers in the province.

Besides, both the political parties during their stints in power, were hostile to PPP-led Sindh government and left no stone unturned to undermine the government. Undermining the provincial government that had the mandate of Sindh was akin to not respecting the mandate of Sindhis given to the party in power. Hostility to the Sindh government and stepmotherly treatment meted out to rank and file created indignation against the PMLN and PTI. Scholarly political discussions have highlighted this historical hypocrisy applied by the two. 

The political aspirations of the workers associated with the political entities in question were highly hurt, and the refusal of administrative patronage due to the provincial government reaffirmed both lip service and provincialism. Thus PPP is, was, and will remain the last ray of hope for the middle class and common people of Sindh.

Biased media jumping to conclusions 

Some mainstream media moguls continued to churn out the old-age silly arguments of calling the mandate given to PPP as an electoral slavery. One of the ready-made accusations directed against PPP is that its members of parliament are landed aristocrats. What the accusers need to realise is that the roots of the parliamentary crop are the same throughout the country. They are feudal lords, electables, capitalists, retired generals, bureaucrats, and ethnically influential, etc. Before jumping to conclusions, one must move the investigative needle to see what is what and who is who.

When the same happens in other provinces with voters giving consecutive electoral mandate to PTI and PML N in KPK and Punjab respectively, the criteria by the media moguls and analysis do change- the mandate given to these political parties is being seen as a revolutionary approach. Such an irrational conclusion is an iceberg of narrow-mindedness applied by mainstream national media platforms and media men. They make a mountain out of a molehill in terms of governance issues in Sindh. The same Eagle Eyes gloss over glaring administrative and financial irregularities in other federating units.

However, this does not mean PPP-led provincial government ensured clean governance and effective administration. Pre-election TV-Talk proudly presented the assessment presented by an economist that said Sindh was ahead of other provinces in terms of human development index. He, however, made it clear that that did not mean that streams of milk and honey were running or there were no issues in the province. He concluded that there was still much to be done to improve the conditions of the common class by implementing electoral commitments through public-private partnership. 

The PPP is accused by its critics as the 'B 'team of the Establishment advancing its agenda of confiscating natural resources, and robbery of islands prevailing in the province for elite real estate. 

Having said that, impartial critics including the writer of this piece take this criticism with a pinch of salt as politically motivated accountability and vilification campaign launched against the PPP leadership, attempts at undermining PPP-led provincial government through federal bureaucracy and last but not the least, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, do paint a different picture.

In the aftermath of recent polls, jumping on the bandwagon, Pir Pagara of GDA, Jamate e Islami and some others have started agitation but what the agitating parties need to realise is that following Pirs and Amirs and voting for the same is fundamentally different. 

While addressing the sit-in staged by the GDA against the alleged poll rigging in Jamshoro, Pir Pagara accused PPP leadership to have a purchased mandate. He further fumed that there was likelihood of martial law. The undemocratic minds do survive in repressive regimes. Those riding on riding on populism wave launched in the wake recent polls must realise that blowing out someone else candle won't shine yours brighter.

What the GDA leadership and some others crying foul in the province, must wake up to the fact that drawing room politics is dead. Appearing on the poltical pitch only during election days is like flogging a dead horse.

Delivery-based vote bank

The Women's Welfare Program called Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) has won the PPP's long-lasting vote bank. The beneficiaries receiving this cash disbursement always come out to vote for the party. A great many people condemn this poverty alleviation programme as reducing women to beggary. 

But only the underprivileged sections of society receiving this quarterly instalment know the value of this underpinning monetary package. Cardiac healthcare facilities like the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NIVCD) and around 1140 health facilities in rural Sindh being run by a Public –Private Partnership called People’s Primary Healthcare Initiative (PPHI) across the province, offering free treatment and placement of stents respectively have cut a chord with the voters. 

Thus it implies that public service delivery is the prime duty of those voted to power, but it also has electoral edges. While a network of NIVCD is providing state-of-the-art healthcare in the province, general district headquarter hospitals are yearning for professional development and effective administration. The shortage of medicines is ludicrous. Structural reforms are much needed. Intra-city Public Transport needs to be operated through a public –private partnership as the Pink buses for women commuters and the Red buses for general commuters in Karachi, Hyderabad, Larkana and Sukkur are winning hearts and minds.

The PPP takes pride to have elected Krishna Kumari hailing from humble background of minority of Umerkot as a senator. This elevation with relation to the senate speaks of importance PPP is giving to minorities. In doing so, the party is leaving the message of patronage and subsequently increasing its vote bank among the minorities.    

PPP led-provincial government's acid test

PPP-led provincial government's acid test will be the realisation of its electoral pledges promised to the public during electioneering and those enshrined in the election manifesto which are the domain of provincial government like the doubling of salaries in five years, ensuring quality education for all, providing free medical facilities at the district level, Kisan card and Mazdoor card, and eradication of hunger through poverty alleviation program, Apni Zameen, Apna Ghar and more. 

The provincial government will walk a tightrope in terms of being reminded to ensure the implementation of the above-mentioned promises. Despite the PPP being in power consecutively for fifteen years, education in Sindh has touched the lowest of the low in terms of academic engagement and enrollment when compared to other provinces.

According to the Pakistan Economic Survey, a staggering 32% of children in Pakistan are out of school, with a distressing 44% in Sindh alone. Notably, 37 % of these out-of-school children are girls. First and foremost, quality education at par with international standards is the democratic right of the population living in the province. Article 25 A calls for ensuring free education to children aged between 5 to 16. 

The picture of public sector educational institutions is poor in terms of infrastructural development and learning outcomes. People with deep pockets afford elite education, and the deprived sections enrol their children in public schools which are poorly managed. 

Consequently, the education department should be purged of political postings in policy decision-making and implementing the same centers. To achieve this end, the taluka and district education officers should be both competent and men of upright character who can sustain political pressure and remove the blackmailing of Teacher Unions when it comes to transferring and posting teaching staff. 

Over-crowded classrooms need to be replaced with a Teacher-Student ratio of one teacher per 30 students. Education curriculum development coupled with modern teaching methods inclusive of digital skills should be prioritised without delay Higher education institutions should be corruption and the corrupt-free. Education guarantees individual and national economy. The promised 'Kisan Card,' Mazdoor Card' will not only improve the conditions of those economically deprived sections, but also will, like the BISP, increase PPP's support bank. 

PPP is politically mature

Except for the late Mumtaz Ali Bhutto during the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto government, the PPP has not installed any Bhutto family member as the CM of Sindh. It has preferred diehard partymen outside the Bhutto clan to be in the saddle of CMship.

The coveted slot has been given to PPP stalwarts like Aftab Shaban Mirani, Syed Qaim Ali, late Syed Abdullah Shah, and Murad Ali Shah. Whereas the Sharif dynasty continued to give provincial captaincy to the family members. This is the reason why on the back of a recent mandate given to PML N in Punjab, the political commentators have presented the idea of giving provincial captaincy outside the family for the survival of the party. However, it fell on deaf ears. 

The octogenarian rural population of Sindh who saw the rise and fall of ZAB and subsequent repressive regime of model dictator general Zia ul Haq, do support PPP and vote for it. The PPP's slogan roti, kapra aur makaan (bread, cloth and shelter) still strikes a chord with the impoverished population in the province.

Worryingly, the PPP’s consecutive three stints in power has failed to eradicate rural poverty. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is on record as saying that the Covid pandemic followed by the 2022 floods have badly affected the provincial economy. The poverty ratio has been recorded at 43% with 75.5% in the rural areas.

Nepotism, favouritism and corruption run deep in the system presided over by the PPP -led provincial government in preceding years. Preoccupation with too much reconciliation has encroached upon the politics of principles.

Compromising cores values of democracy only give temporary dividends, the long-term political survival rests upon democratic considerations, clean governance and pro -people politics.

Empowerment of the local government and ensuring its services it was created for is still a distant dream. Ensuring local government as per its spirit will will make towns and cities clean and a green ripple effect can be huge should this happen.

The Solid Waste Management through public –private partnership in Karachi, Hyderabad and Larkana and in other cities of Sindh is a success story. The same model should be prioritised at taluka and UCs level. Given rising unemployment and subsequent debilitating individual economy, the provincial government should prioritize industrial units at grassroots level. Such industrial growth will generate multiple jobs for both the skilled and unskilled labour across the province. 

Thus the jobless and the hungry could be facilitated and fed by giving them sources of earing their livelihoods. There is likelihood of the PPP joining federal government. As a coalition partner it would be under tremendous political pressure to convince the federal government to expand BISP disbursement and to deliver the promised housing project. 

With a heavy mandate, a heavy responsibility is placed on the shoulders of the PPP in terms coming up to the expectations of voters.

The writer is a freelance contributor. He may reached at Nazeer tweets at @nazeerarijo.