LAHORE - Political merger of Janoobi Punjab Sooba Mahaaz (JPSM) with the PTI seems to have upset the PPP’s strategy to back the independent candidates in the coming elections.

As part of its election strategy for the upcoming polls, the PPP had plans to support the independent candidates in constituencies where it lacked strong candidates of its own.

Given that the PPP is fast losing ground to its political opponents mainly the PTI in Punjab, the number of such constituencies is supposed to be higher in 2018 elections.

A good number of PPP leaders from Punjab have already joined the PTI to secure their political future.

Though Bilawal Bhutto believes that PPP is the best bet for the aspirants in the present situation, it would be hard to convince the candidates who largely disagree with his assertion.

Interestingly, the PTI leadership has forced the JPSM leaders to join their party by threatening them that the PTI would field its candidates in constituencies from where they would be contesting the next elections.

Before announcing their merger with the PTI, the JPSM leaders were considering the option of contesting as independent candidates putting off their merger with any of the parties till the time the party position was clear after the elections. But in a recent meeting with PTI leaders they were made to believe they would be diminishing their chance of victory in the presence of PTI candidates and that too in a contest also having the presence of candidates from the PML-N, the PPP and other independents.

The development has also alarmed other candidates from Punjab planning to contest the next elections in their independent capacity.

PPP was also eyeing such candidates who could be backed in certain constituencies in return for their support to the party at the time of formation of next government after the elections.

PPP will surely have to review its strategy if a greater number of electables prefer contesting election under the banner of the PTI which seems set to engulf more politicians belonging to the PML-N especially from the Southern Punjab region.

Last general elections held in May 2013 threw up 11 independent candidates for the National Assembly.

A good number of electables from Punjab were planning to be in the run in their individual capacity this time also since they were not sure which of the parties was going to form the next government in the changing political scenario. 

But the new development might affect their thinking to run independently, thereby, reducing the number of independents in the coming elections.

Wednesday’s happening has also put a question mark on the performance of PPP’s South Punjab President Makhdum Ahmad Mehmood who has not been successful so far to bring strong politicians from his region into the party fold. No PML-N dissident from the southern belt has joined the PPP in the recent past.

In a situation when political space in South Punjab is shrinking for the PML-N, the PPP has failed to reap the benefits.

Once a stronghold of the PPP, South Punjab is now fast becoming a fortress of the PTI ahead of 2018 elections.

Also, it is a great setback to Asif Zardari’s efforts to create a space for his party in a province where the PML-N is seemingly losing its control after 30 years.

Zardari’s dream of electorate throwing a split mandate this time and the PPP becoming a major stakeholder in the formation of new set up with the support of independents seems hard to be realised in the present scenario. 

Though the PML-N leadership is confident that people will reject the turncoats in the coming elections, it may not be the case given the harsh political realities in the rural Punjab where party vote-bank does not matter much.

It is mainly the personalities who hold sway over the voters in the rural areas. 

It has always been a challenging task for the political parties to defeat the Legharis, Khosas, Dareshaks, Mazaris, Gilanis, Qureshi’s, Dogars, Bosans, Noons, Hirajs, Bodlas, Daultanas, Abbasis and Makhdooms- all from this region- if they don’t pick their candidates from these families.