With swords already unsheathed, battle lines are being swiftly drawn for the upcoming general elections. This time too, Punjab is set to be the main arena for political duels. And while things are likely to be tricky in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan as well, the fight for Sindh seems to be pretty straightforward, and once again the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) should be able to gain enough seats to form a government in the province.
In the 2013 elections, the PPP put up one of its worst performances and was almost wiped out from three of the four provinces, but managed to hold on to its traditional stronghold of Sindh. Dominating the rural parts of Sindh, the PPP not only won almost 50 percent of the National Assembly seats from the province, but also got more than half the seats of the provincial assembly. And while it is hard to plausibly predict Pakistani politics, it is almost certain that the PPP would repeat this performance in Sindh this time around as well.
It has been nearly half a century since the maverick Zulfikar Ali Bhutto captivated Sindh with his popular brand of politics. A decade has also passed since the assassination of his daughter Benazir Bhutto.
There is also no denying the fact that the performance of the PPP, which has been ruling the Sindh province for almost a decade now, has been below par to say the least.
But while the passion of the jiyalas might have dampened, given a non-Bhutto leadership, the absence of any alternative political force, other than the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in urban Sindh, means the PPP has an easy road ahead to hold on to power in the province. This also means that there is not much pressure on the party leadership to improve their act, as they hardly face any competition.
Unfortunately for the people of Sindh, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan has largely ignored the province. The PTI has not only failed to attract notables to its folds, it has also done nothing to organise the party.
“We put up a really good performance in Karachi in 2013, and I agree that we should have capitalised on that performance,” commented a Karachi-based PTI leader.
“However, we not only failed to expand into rural Sindh, we even lost ground in Karachi,” he admitted. “I think if our leadership had focused more on Karachi and we had better leadership in the province, the situation could have been much better.”
In the 2013 elections, the PTI got the second-highest number of votes in Karachi, after the MQM, but it failed to put up an impressive show in the local body elections in 2015. Not only that, the PTI has been losing members to rivals as well, most notable being Nadir Akmal Leghari, the former president of PTI Sindh, who last year switched sides and went over to the PPP. In fact, Leghari is not the only one joining the PPP in Sindh. Nabeel Gabol, who had quit the PPP to join the MQM, has also returned to the party’s folds. Abdul Hakeem Baloch, the lone MNA from Sindh for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, also resigned from his seat and joined the PPP, only to be re-elected from the same constituency on a ticket from his new party. Now with the PML-N literally non-existent in the province, the PPP only faces minor hurdles in the rural areas of Sindh from the likes of the PML-Functional, etc.
More interesting, perhaps, would be how the PPP performs in the urban centres, especially Karachi. Traditionally the stronghold of MQM, the PPP may be smelling an opportunity as the former faces pressure from many sides — MQM London, the PSP, dissent within and, above all, the establishment.
The MQM-Pakistan, as it is called now, led by Dr. Farooq Sattar, would need to ensure that it offsets the influence of London as well as avoid conflict with the Pak Sarzameen Party of Mustafa Kamal, otherwise it may face trouble in countering the PPP and, to a lesser extent, the PTI.
If the MQM-P and the PSP run in elections against each other, the biggest beneficiary would be the PPP as it would get in a position to win four to six extra seats in Karachi due to the divided MQM vote bank.
For the PTI, which surprised many by securing more than 525,000 votes in Karachi in the 2013 general elections for the national assembly, a lack of organisational structure means the individual following and huge fan club of Imran Khan is difficult to be translated into electoral politics.
On their part, the leaders of the MQM-P are aware of the challenges.
“We know it won’t be easy for us, as it would be the first time that the MQM will go to polls without the Altaf Hussain brand,” concedes a senior party leader.
“We will need to sort out our own differences, to start with, and then focus on how we can retain our seats and not allow the PPP or the PTI to take advantage of any weakness that we may have,” he opined.
The bottom line, perhaps, is that there is also no denying the fact that the performance of the PPP, which has been ruling the Sindh province for almost a decade now, has been below par to say the least.