ISLAMABAD - Pakistan People’s Party Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari believes his party has a real chance to return to power amid the split in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, his close aides said.

Senior PPP leaders told The Nation that Zardari was already discussing the team to run the PPP-led government in the centre.

A senior PPP leader said that Zardari was hoping to perform better in Punjab as the PML-N was facing split. “Talks are on (with other parties) for seat adjustment to achieve the goal (a reasonable number of seats) in Punjab,” he said.

He said the PPP will contact the PML-N dissidents and other parties for cooperation in the general election.

Over the weekend, Zardari said that he will be in the ‘driving seat’ after the PPP wins the general election, expected in July. Addressing a political rally in Nawabshah, Zardari said that he would assume the lead role and try to drag the country out of the crisis. The PPP Co-chairman claimed his party would even have won the 2013 polls if it was not ‘massively rigged’.

On Monday, the ruling PML-N was dealt with a blow as eight lawmakers quit the party. The dissidents also announced to launch a struggle to make south Punjab a separate province. The disgruntled members include Khusro Bakhtiar, Balakh Sher Mazari, Rana Qasim Noon, Tahir Iqbal, Tahir Bashir, Basit Bokhari, Saleemullah and Sardar Nasrullah Khan Dreshak. Six of them were members of the National Assembly while two were members of the Punjab Assembly. The PML-N is also facing internal issues amid differences among senior leaders.

In the 2013 polls, the PPP lost heavily and the low-popularity readings continued until 2017. The party, however, is once again looking to make a comeback in Punjab with a few encouraging rallies in the populous province – that decides who will rule the country in every general election. Apart from rallies, the PPP is also expecting some electable to join the party to win some share of the National Assembly seats that could put them in the race to form the government in the centre.

The PPP is optimistic that influential politicians – annoyed with the PML-N and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf – could join the party and strengthen its chances of performing better after a political hiatus.

Zardari believes even 30 National Assembly seats from the 140-plus on offer in Punjab could give the party a realistic chance to lead a coalition government in the centre. PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, however, has higher expectations and insists on even forming the provincial government. Bilawal’s optimism stems from successful rallies in various cities which he claims have mobilised the party workers.

Punjab was once a stronghold of the PPP during the peak of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto but it slowly drifted away to the right-wing or pro-right parties. The PML-N has been firmly in control of the province over the recent past. The province, with a bigger population than all the other provinces combined, is effectively the ‘king-maker’ with scores of the National Assembly seats on offer.

Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Sherry Rehman said the PML-N government had failed to deliver and the people were supporting the PPP to resolve their issues.

She said that just before the polls the government had given a one-time amnesty for undocumented assets outside the country.  “The message is: rob Pakistan and bring cash back by paying a two percent? Foreign dollar accounts will also be eligible for amnesty on payment of a five percent penalty,” she said.

Senator Rehman said the government had ignored the parliament during the last five years and was still banking on ordinances rather than discussing the issues in the parliament. PPP Secretary-General Syed Nayyar Hussain Bokhari claimed that the PPP will give a huge surprise in 2018 elections.

He said that in 2013 elections “on the one hand Taliban were after our blood and former prime minister's (Yousaf Raza Gilani’s) son was kidnapped and on the other, the returning officers were overactive to defraud the elections in PML-N’s favour”.

He said in the last five years in by-elections in Punjab, the PTI and the PML-N spent billions of rupees. “Jahangir Tareen and Aleem Khan spent money like water in by-elections. The PTI and the PML-N have both made the election a very expensive exercise,” he said.

He said the PPP had brave and committed workers which no one can claim to have and “these workers will be led by young Bilawal”.

He said: “There will be no answer to the opponents of the political wisdom of Asif Ali Zardari and a young and energetic leadership of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. In this process, Imran Khan will keep waiting for the finger of the umpire. On the other hand, PML-N conspiracies will not work this time around.”

Meanwhile, PPP Parliamentarians Secretary Information Dr Nafisa Shah strongly condemned the PML-N government for changing the name of Benazir Bhutto Airport in Islamabad. In a statement, Shah said that it was the ‘moral deprivation’ of the PML-N that it had decided to change the name of Islamabad airport. “It shows that the followers of Dictator General Ziaul Haq are still after Bhutto’s name. Their blood boils when they hear the name of Bhuttos,” she said.

She said that the PML-N first removed the picture of Benazir Bhutto from the logo of Benazir Income Support Programme and now “they are changing the name of Islamabad airport.” The PML-N, she said, should remember that the people who wanted to erase Bhutto's name in Pakistan “have been erased by nature. The government should refrain from such actions.”