Dr. Hasan Askari
It seems that Pakistani political parties are getting ready for the general elections. The PPP, the PMLN and the PTI of Imran Khan have become more active than was the case in the past. The Difa-i-Pakistan Council, a group of hard line Islamic groups and parties, is building its political strength on anti-Americanism. Some of its parties want to build some kind of electoral alliance for contesting the next general elections on the pattern of the MMA that contested the 2002 general elections.
The competition among the political parties is expected to increase from July onwards. We will discuss the current efforts of major political parties to get ready for the general elections in this and the coming weeks. This week we focus on the PPP.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has a tangible presence in all four provinces and Gilgit-Baltistan. Its members of the parliament get elected from all provinces and it is also present in all provincial assemblies.
The PPP-led coalition governments at the federal level and in Sindh and Balochistan have been functioning since March 2008. However, these governments have not been successful in ensuring good and effective governance and addressing socio-economic problems of the people.
The major predicament of the PPP-led federal government is that it could not get over the survival question because it faced challenges from political adversaries and state institutions. The military top brass built pressures on it from time to time with reference to their professional and corporate interests.
The Supreme Court has also kept strong pressure on the federal government in the cases filed by political adversaries of the PPP. The Supreme Court, and at times, the High Courts, took up matters relating to the federal government on their own, what is described as the suo-motu action. The Prime Minister faces a contempt of court charge because of his refusal to the Supreme Court direction to revive criminal proceedings against President Asif Ali Zardari in Swiss Courts.
It is likely that the Supreme Court convicts the prime minister in the contempt of court of case. This will create another unnecessary political crisis in Pakistan because the opposition will pounce on this opportunity to seek the removal of the PPP-led coalition government. However, given the fact that the ruling coalition at the federal level is expected to hold together, they will elect a new prime minister who will refuse to write the letter to the Swiss government. This will create a dilemma for the Supreme Court because it may have to proceed against another PPP prime minister. The Supreme Court may have an edge in law and constitution but it is not likely to succeed against the PPP in political terms. The conviction of Gilani and trail of his successor will not harm its prospects in the general elections. The PPP can make political capital from the trial of its leaders by the Supreme Court; one of them was given death sentence.
The federal government managed to survive over the last four years mainly because the PPP leadership succeeded in building and sustaining partnership with other political parties. President Asif Ali Zardari has been instrumental to building political partnership and he also won-back the MQM when it decided twice to withdraw from the coalition. The coalition partners –PPP, ANP, MQM and PMLQ—are expected to be accommodative towards each other in the next general elections.
If PPP works in harmony with its coalition partners in the next general elections it will have a clear edge over its political rivals. This will require political prudence and a down-to-earth assessment of the political situation in the constituencies for selecting winning candidates while, at the same time accommodating the partners.
The PPP faces two major challenges. First, the performance of its federal and provincial governments has been poor, causing much alienation from the party. Second, there is some dissatisfaction against the leadership in the party. A good number of its workers and activists feel neglected and they have strong reservations about its leadership, Asif Ali Zardari and his close advisers.
The governance issues have been tackled very poorly without providing any reasonable explanation of this failure. The law and order problems, especially in Karachi and Balochistan, are going to haunt the PPP in the next general elections. It needs to pay the highest attention to addressing electricity and gas shortages in the next six months because these shortages are adversely affecting the economy which in turn undermines economic prospects of the common people. Various welfare project under the Benazir Support Program have provided relief to a large number of poor families but the success of this program cannot be a substitute for the federal government’s inability to handle the electricity and gas problem
Two issues have caused much uneasiness among the PPP activists. First, they find it difficult to defend the party in view of poor management of the economy and electricity shortages, coupled with the complaints of increased corruption in the higher circles of the government. Second, President Zardari had, until recently, isolated himself from the workers. His team in the presidency also had weak links the workers.
Recently, President Zardari has started going out in the field. His recent visits to Lahore, Multan and Okara are positive moves. They party cannot stand on its feet to meet the challenge of elections without the leadership developing an active interaction with the workers and providing significant economic relief to the common people.
The forthcoming budget will be critical to the fate of the PPP in the next general elections. Much will depend on addressing socio-economic issues. These include economic relief to common people, management of electricity and gas shortages and convincing the people that the PPP government is taking effective steps to check economic down turn. The PPP will have to work hard to retain its leading role in Pakistani politics.