As political parties in the Punjab prepare for one of the most decisive and intense elections of the year - the election to replace disqualified Nawaz Sharif’s NA seat - one major political party is noticeably absent from the mainstream. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in its time had a voter bank of 50,000-plus votes in most national constituencies in Lahore, yet in this very crucial election it has mostly been reduced to the sidelines.

Former president Asif Ali Zardari certainly stated in late August the importance of the election of NA-120 and urged party workers to do their utmost best to ensure Faisal Mir’s victory. However, it seems his words were not taken to heart by the party leadership as PPP has pushed forward a very underwhelming and meager election campaign. PPP’s gathering at Islampura seemed more of a small meeting than a rally as important party members failed to show up. Nor has PPP made any major marketing effort nor put any significant funding to the election campaign in a race where PTI and PML(N) have flooded the area with their election banners.

PPP’s lackluster election campaign reflects the losing influence of the party in Punjab and reveals the party’s own mindset of seemingly giving up Punjab to becoming a largely regional party. Where in 2008 PPP candidate Jahangir Badar managed to snag 24,380 votes in NA 120; in 2013 the party only collected some 2604 votes, and it seems that this year, it is not even aiming for that. Perhaps it is PPP’s demise in the Punjab that has paved the way for other parties to step out in the political sphere and attempt to fill the lacuna. Most noticeable is Milli Muslim League, established by Hafiz Saeed’s Jamatud Dawa, which has put forward its own candidate Yaqoob Sheikh for NA 120 and is showing strength.

Even if the party did not predict a win in this election, it should nevertheless have put forward prominent support and highlighted this election for democracy’s sake. For a party which has always emphasised democracy and the constitution and has whole heartedly supported Nawaz’s disqualification, its desertion of such a symbolic election is ill-advised to say the least.

By leaving the stage of Punjab, the party leaves a vacuum which could be filled by radical and troublesome parties. PPP should stick to its slogan of “Bhutto will never die” and ensure its relevance in places other than Sindh.