LAHORE - The PPP which ruled the country four times, more than any other political party, is currently passing through what appears to be a bad patch following its defeat in May elections, which also saw its utter devastation in Punjab, the province which is to all intents and purposes the key to political power in Pakistan.

A serious leadership deficit coupled with organisational disorder is one of the biggest challenges staring the party in the face in post-election period. Party cadres are in a state of befuddlement about who is really leading the party at the moment. Is it Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur or son Bilawal, calling the shots?

While President Zardari is under legal bar not to assume any political role as long as he is holding the constitutional office, Bilawal Bhutto, the apparent heir-to be of his mother’s political legacy, has not only been relegated to the position of ‘Patron-in Chief’ from that of party chairman, he is also elbowed aside from party matters.

Under advice from his father, Bilawal decided to stay away from the election campaign due to fears that he might be targeted by the terrorists. He did not even agree to address the rallies through video conferences, much to the chagrin of party candidates who had to cancel their planned public meetings due to non-availability of party chairman.

The stories about differences between aunt and nephew are also making rounds in the media. Bilawal wants a greater say in party matters, a role being denied to him by his father and aunt. There are also strong indications to believe that President Zardari has a desire to launch Aseefa, the youngest of the siblings, in politics. For this, he has already started her political training. She is often seen with his father and aunt at the presidency on all important occasions.

The experience of running the party under the command of Faryal Talpur has already failed to achieve the desired results in last elections. It was she who interviewed and made final selection of candidates in Punjab where the PPP secured only one National Assembly seat.

The outcome of May elections badly shattered President Zardari’ belief in power politics. His idea that ‘election is bought, not fought’ also proved wrong when his party was reduced to a regional party after the polls.

“ZA Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto were not individuals when they died; they were institutions. Zardari, Faryal, Bilawal and Aseefa are individuals. They are yet to get recognition as leaders,” commented an old PPP guard on the prevailing leadership crisis in the PPP. In his view, only a Bhutto can infuse new life into the party.

At the moment, there is no leader in Punjab who could be trusted to salvage the party’s glory and reputation. In Central Punjab, leaders such as Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo, Imtiaz Safdar Warriach and Raja Riaz have already been tested. Their shoddy performance in the last elections has tarnished their image as leaders. They could not secure even their own seats what to talk of steering the party towards victory.

Same is true with former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Makhdum Shahabuddin in south Punjab where the people did not pay any heed to the PPP’s slogan of south Punjab province. It got only one National Assembly seat from this region, thanks to Makhdum Ahmad Mehmud whose son joined the party just before elections and won a seat for the party.

But many party men with whom this scribe talked to still believe the PPP remains a force to reckon with. It can stage a comeback in the next elections if the party leadership shuns power politics, they argue.

Some analysts think it would be an uphill task for the PPP to regain its lost turf as long as the party command remains divided among individuals of Zardari family. “The PPP will have to revert to its ideological basis departing from its pragmatic politics which has kept it away from victory. It will also have to win back people’s trust to regain power,” a founding member of the party, Altaf Qureshi remarked.

He was of the view that ideologically motivated workers of the party are disillusioned since the PPP has been the party of the ‘left’ but now under the new leadership, it is rather tending to lean towards the centre from ‘left’. Most of them think that PPP was no different from other parties as it was doing power politics like other parties, he said, adding that these workers played the role of silent spectators on the polling day and did not cast their vote.

There are reports that PPP leadership has decided to reorganise the party on the lines of Communist Party of China. “The PPP needs ideologically trained and motivated people to do so. There is a bunch of such loyal workers in the party’s ranks, but they seem to have lost their currency as well as voice,” Mr Qureshi observed.