In August 2002, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was forced to split and rebrand itself as the Pakistan People’s Party-Parliamentarians (PPP-P), after the then military dictator, Pervez Musharraf passed an ordinance barring parties from contesting elections whose leaders were not in the country and facing criminal charges – in this case, Benazir Bhutto. Such contortions allowed the party to contest the general elections, but no one held any doubt that despite the extra ‘P’ in the name, the party was essentially the same.
Fifteen years later there seems to be little need in maintaining this schism, especially since the dictator is long gone. In fact, there was talk of the a long-awaited and logical merger between the factions in the upcoming intra-party talks. However, at Bilawal house in Karachi, the meeting – which also doubled as an intra-party poll – decided to keep the split alive for quite separate reasons.
Of course, the words “intra-party poll” are being used here in their loosest sense. The essentially democratic exercise was turned on its head when everyone was elected to their post “unopposed”. Which essentially means that people were appointed to their post by a dynastic power that still reigns strong inside the party – the “polls” were mere formality.
The real purpose of the meeting was to solve the problem that Asif Ali Zardari and Billawal Bhutto shared the unwieldy title of co-chairman of the PPP, and that furthermore, they were associated with both PPP factions – which barred them from contesting elections under election commission rules. Now PPP-Parliamentarians have elected former president Asif Ali Zardari as its president, while Bilawal Bhutto was made chairman of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party – a purportedly elegant solution that incidentally allows both members to have the top spot in all its glory. It also quietly does the job of outwardly disassociating the controversial Zardari from the fresh new scion of the family, Billawal Bhutto.
This feel-good factor extends down the party. There are now two general secretaries, two information secretaries, two finance secretaries and so forth. More politicians are satiated with high level appointments and considering the “political arrangement” that will allow both parties to use the traditional PPP electoral symbol of the arrow, no one party has to feel second-rate at all.
A meeting that was supposed to simplify and streamline the PPP has instead turned it into a two-headed beast. What implications of this pseudo-split will be, administratively and legally, remain to be seen.