Persuading Punjab

Is PPP a party of the federation?

Persuading Punjab
As one drives through Lahore, one gets distracted by the sight of vivid PML-N posters stuck onto the rickshaws and displayed on the colossal billboards that line the newly built roads. PML-N’s symbol, the Sher, is no less prominent, in shops, the Dhabas and on cars. Lahore, unequivocally, is a firm stronghold of the PML-N, the recent elections saw it sweeping all but one of its 13 seats. That wasn’t always the case.

In 1970, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s PPP won all of Lahore’s seats in a clean sweep, a feat the PML-N has persistently failed to achieve. One by one, relatively unknown PPP candidates toppled Lahore’s mighty conservative elite in the electoral battlefield. Bhutto astonishingly defeated Allama Iqbal’s son, winning over 78,000 votes, twice as many votes as won by Iqbal’s son. The gigantic wave of popularity Bhutto rode had culminated in a landslide victory for the PPP in West Pakistan, the party winning 81 seats against its nearest opponent’s 9. Where, in 2013, Insafians kept awaiting a Tsunami after 16 years of PTI’s existence, Bhutto had brought about an electoral revolution just three years after his party came onto the national scene. Punjab had been the crucial pivot that had thrust Bhutto to power, winning him three out of every four National Assembly seats it had. Even more surprising is the fact that Bhutto wasn’t relatively strong in South Punjab, whereas he literally clean swept Northern and Central Punjab. Call him an evil-genius, a megalomaniac who supposedly broke Pakistan and established a civilian dictatorship, or the Quaid-e-Awam who still captures the imagination of the people of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was, indisputably, the most popular leader in Punjab since independence. Incontrovertibly, Bhutto’s legacy and the quasi-Greek Tragedy of the Bhuttos has allowed the family to dominate Pakistan’s political landscape for decades. But will this domination pass the test of time, and the rise of the Punjabi bourgeoisie, with their unprecedented electoral power?

In the recent elections, the PPP was swept off of Punjab, winning only 3 seats out of its 148. In 2008, when Benazir Bhutto’s unfortunate assassination resulted in a sympathy wave, it wasn’t able to make any major breakthrough in Northern and Central Punjab, which collectively contribute around 100 National Assembly seats. This same region was, in the 70s, considered the impregnable fortress of the PPP.

[quote]PPP was reduced to 3 seats out of 50 in South Punjab [/quote]

Although it calls itself the party of the federation, the undeniable truth is that the PPP’s support has eventually faded away in all regions but rural Sindh and South Punjab. Today’s PPP seeks to emulate Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, but do they believe in the politics of the federation? Their recent actions imply otherwise: The party has constantly attempted to bring the proposal of the South Punjab province to materialize, believing that the realization of such an entity would mean that it could bank on its support in that region to form another provincial government. The recent general election was a referendum on the proposal, with the PPP being reduced to 3 seats out of the 50 in South Punjab. The strategy of inciting a sense of discrimination amongst the Southerners didn’t evidently work.

Electoral wisdom and past trends indicate that the PPP could most probably return to power in 2018, with the PML-N already losing its support, the PTI not being able to project itself as a viable alternative, and most crucially, a fresh face with the magic Bhutto name leading the party. However, PPP will return to power in a hung parliament, if at all, due to its virtual nonexistence in those 100 constituencies in North and Central Punjab. The PPP could, like 2008, become the largest parliamentary bloc with only around 85-95 seats, and form a coalition government. If this scenario comes into play, the next election, unlike the recent one, will most likely be a marginal one. That’s because PML-N, according to historical trends, has never been given a drubbing in Northern and Central Punjab, except in 2002, a scenario highly unlikely to be repeated, as we all know. The bottom line is that the PPP has a shot at forming the next government, but at the cost of regaining the strong, firm government that Bhutto gave to Pakistanis with his massive electoral mandate.

Electoral history shows that the people of Punjab have tended to be highly versatile in their voting patterns. They voted for the PPP in the 70s and in ‘93, for the PML-N in the 90s, and for the PML-Q in 2002, eventually voting again for the PML-N. Of course, it would be an uphill task to regain the support it has lost over 25 years in Punjab, but the Bhuttos have never failed to exceed the expectations of the Pakistanis, and the new Bhutto in the Battleground can do so as well.