ISLAMABAD - Major public meetings recently addressed by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, in the Punjab and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have generated interesting discussions across the country.

More precisely the intensity of interest it had generated in the rank and file of rivals Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) suggests they were nothing short of “warning shots” to both the parties.

The highly-charged public meetings that Bilawal Bhutto addressed first in Chitral and later in Mansehra districts of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where PTI has been ruling since 2013, have attracted those PPP workers who had voted for the PTI in the last elections.

So seems the trend in Punjab, where he also addressed highly-charged public gatherings first in Chiniot and later in Fateh Jang, Attock district, that have not just added to PTI’s anxiety but have also caused alarm to the PML-N that holds power in the Punjab.

Background discussions with workers of the three parties reveal assessment and significance of the PPP’s shows of power.

To the PPP jiyalas, these rallies were part of a mass mobilisation campaign that the Bilwal Bhutto and his party had planned. This staging of rallies is now expected to continue across the country till the next general elections.

The purpose of these rallies is to reactivate the party that has remained in hibernation after 2013 general elections. The rallies were aimed at showing street power and to show that the PPP still remains a viable political force capable of running the affairs of the country. On the other hand, the PTI leaders have looked at the PPP’s political shows of strength with caution but seemed confident that the PPP would not be able to pose any major challenge.

The PTI leaders seem to believe that the PPP would not be able to pose a challenge to the gains the party has made during the last four years by playing the role of an effective opposition party in the centre, and due to the steps taken under its rule in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The PTI’s “junoonis” have rejected the claim that the PPP’s “jiyalas” had voted in favour of the PTI in 2013 elections.  “This is just PPP leadership’s propaganda to raise the morale of its jiyalas,” a PTI leader from the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa commented.

Speaking to The Nation on condition of anonymity, he said the PTI would retain its political position in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in the next elections, and this was because of the reforms done in the province.

The PTI leader was of the view the party would also secure large number of seats, --- much beyond the expectations of its political rivals.

Some independent observers have looked at the PPP political shows as reactivation of the party, which remained in power in one way or the other since its first rule under its founding chairman former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

They however saw the PPP’s recent public meetings largely in the backdrop of the post-Nawaz Sharif PML-N, which is facing serious challenges especially after his dismissal as prime minister and party chief.

They believed that the PML-N, which has been claiming Punjab as its power base would weaken by the time next general election, due to be held in 2018, approached.

However, PML-N workers reject these notions on the basis of development agenda the party had followed during the past four years.

They believe that the PML-N would re-emerge as the strongest party by securing greater number of seats in the next elections in the three provinces compared to the last elections.

They believe that in the Punjab the party will retain its position.

The independent observers nonetheless predicted serious electoral contest between the PPP and the PTI, both cutting the PML-N to size in the next general elections.

However, since the PML-N is still in power at the centre and in the Punjab and Balochistan provinces, and there is ample time till the next general elections, the outcome of by-election in NA-120 Lahore this month would provide more serious an assessment as to how these political parties will fare in the next general elections.

 

Maqbool Malik