The PPP, led by Bilawal Bhutto is striving hard to revive its fortunes, particularly in Punjab where it was completely routed in the 2013 general elections. In this regard, it also held its Founding Day celebrations at Lahore which continued for one week, providing Bilawal the chance to interact with PPP workers and leaders from all over the country. PPP’s relations with the ruling party have also worsened in the backdrop of the threat by Bilawal that if the four demands of PPP were not met, the party would launch a mass movement against the government. As the deadline given by PPP draws near, it has also announced the return of Asif Ali Zardari to Pakistan on 23 December.
In the backdrop of the foregoing developments the media and intelligentsia are engaged in a debate whether the PPP would be able to re-emerge as a potent political force at the national and pose a threat to the PML-N government or not? The permeating view is that the party has lost its appeal among the masses, which was attributable to vacuum of leadership in the party after the martyrdom of Benazir Bhutto. Zardari, with a tainted reputation, certainly was not a worthy heir to the Bhutto legacy. The PPP victory in the 2008 elections was a consequence of a sympathy vote, with the backdrop of the martyrdom of Benazir Bhutto.. But after coming to power, the PPP under Zardari failed to deliver. He mainly focused on survival and hardly did anything substantive to obstruct the rampant corruption and tiding over the energy crisis. The saga of Swiss accounts kept haunting the Zardari government which sacrificed two Prime Ministers but never tried to remove the haze. These were some of the major reasons which are believed to have contributed to PPP’s defeat in Punjab in 2013 general elections. Even in South Punjab which was considered the bastion of PPP’s political power in the Province, the party faired very badly. As compared to 20 seats out of 44 that the PPP obtained in 2008 elections it had to contend with only two seats in 2013. And now only Sindh remains its stronghold.
The majority view is that under the circumstances, PPP even under Bilawal would not be able to resurrect itself and pose a threat to the PML-N government. The return of Zardari and his calling the shots would undermine whatever gains the party might have made under the leadership of his son during his absence. Bilawal is not a leader of the caliber of his mother or the grandfather. Though he tries to emulate the style of his grand –father yet he is no way near the image of that great man.
Another debilitating factor for him is that he has not entered the political cauldron with any revolutionary narrative and vision that could distinguish him from other political leaders and parties. Like Imran, he also has preferred to hurl unsubstantiated allegations against the PML-N leadership instead of focusing on the challenges faced by the country and his vision to resolve them in a better way than the incumbent government. This has not gone well with the people who do not feel impressed with his line of action. It was quite evident during the Local Bodies Elections and AJK polls where he personally waged a vigorous campaign targeting the Prime Minister and PML-N. People spoke and gave their verdict through the ballot box. Under the prevailing situation, there seems hardly any possibility of PPP becoming a threat to the PML-N government. Punjab is surely not going to participate in the PPP-led agitation against the government. The government has not given any importance to the demands of Bilawal and ostensibly seems in a mood to call his bluff, being mindful of the ground realities and brimming with the confidence that it enjoyed an unassailable position at the moment.
The ground reality is that the PML-N is the most popular political party of the country notwithstanding the rhetoric of its political opponents and the media outlets who are essentially hostile to the sitting government. The best touchstone to judge the popularity and vote bank of a political party in a democratic dispensation is the ballot box and the party has repeatedly shown its political prowess in the polls. Honestly speaking, the success of the party is attributable to the performance of the PML-N government during the last three years. It has the distinction of launching a decisive battle against terrorists through operation Zarb-e-Azb and dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in North Waziristan and also dealing with the sleeping cells of the terrorist outfits, their sympathisers and the members of the proscribed entities through NAP. It can also rightly claim credit for initiating targeted operation in Karachi which has been a tremendous success. Tackling insurgency in Balochistan is yet another feather in the cap of the PML-N government. The government is also feverishly working on tackling the energy crisis and power outages have been reduced to the minimum. Looking at the new power projects initiated under CPEC which are likely to be completed during 2017 and 2018 it can be safely inferred that by the next elections the country will be out of this precarious situation. The revival of the flagging economy and the success of the macro-economic reforms, which has been endorsed by almost all the international lending and evaluating agencies, also goes in favour of the government and strengthens its chances of winning the next elections on the basis of its overall performance.
Against this the PPP has neither any worthwhile cause to challenge the government nor the credentials to do so. It also does not possess a magic wand to scuttle these ground realities. It would therefore be advisable for PPP to stop wasting its energies on an elusive dream of removing the government through agitation. Democracy is about tolerance and respecting the mandate of the opponents. Elections are only 15 months away and it was right time for the political parties including PPP to start preparing for accountability in court of the people.
PPP claims to have nurtured democracy and made sacrifices for it; a claim which cannot be denied in regards to the times when the party was led by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his illustrious daughter Benazir. Therefore it was incumbent upon it not to disrupt the democratic process and allow the PML-N government to complete its mandated tenure. Parliament is the right forum to resolve the national issues and not the streets. Attempts to settle national issues on the streets are tantamount to undermining the sanctity and status of the parliament as well as a negation of the democratic and constitutional norms.