ISLAMABAD - Former president Asif Ali Zardari has set sights on this year’s general polls to return to power as a “skipper” – days after defeating the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in the senate chairman and deputy chairman election.

Zardari, the co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party, cobbled together all the opposition parties including bitter rival, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, to defeat the PML-N in the March 12 senate chairman and deputy chairman election.

The PPP-backed Sadiq Sanjrani and Saleem Mandviwalla were elected as the chairman and the deputy chairman of the Senate, despite the PML-N’s claims of enjoying majority’s support in the Upper House of the parliament.

The defeat was a shocker for the PML-N who launched investigations to find the “silent rebels” who voted for the rival candidates.

However, the Senate victory gave a push to Zardari’s campaign to make a comeback.

This year, Zardari said the PPP had also played a role to bring the PML (Quaid-e-Azam)’s Abdul Quddus Bizinjo as the new chief minister of Balochistan.

Bizinjo played a key role to bring the PPP and the PTI together in the election for Senate’s top slots.

Senior PPP leaders told The Nation that Zardari had already started contacting potential allies to prepare for the elections, expected in July.

A close aide of Zardari said the PPP co-chairman was only reluctant to start a dialogue process with the PML-N otherwise, he was ready to discuss cooperation in the general election with all the parties.

“We will even speak to the PTI. Other parties have remained our partners in the past more or less. The goal is to form governments in the centre and the provinces,” he said.

The PPP leader said Zardari was aiming to return as the president or the prime minister but wanted a powerful mandate.

“He will become the president, if the PPP forms government in the centre but Bilawal [Bhutto Zardari] is not the prime minister. He will consider to become the PM himself also, if the PPP has a good strength. If Bilawal is elected the PM, Zardari will become Sonia Gandhi [a reference to the Indian leader who ruled from behind the scenes as Congress formed the government],” he added.

In 2013, the PPP did badly in all provinces other than the Sindh – where they lead the provincial government.

Since the national elections, the party has been struggling for revival as Imran Khan-led PTI tried to fill the vacuum.

The party was nowhere in the contest in the last local government polls held in Islamabad and the provinces - except in Sindh.

Senior PPP leader Senator Sherry Rehman said her party was expecting to win the 2018 polls.

Speaking to The Nation, she said: “The PPP is strongly placed for a leadership role in the next election.”

The people of Pakistan, Rehman said, “need leadership that focuses on the country’s urgent economic and foreign policy crises, not just a defence of personal brand.”

Earlier, in an exclusive interview with The Nation, PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had said that the PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan had buried their political future by committing blunders.

Bilawal maintained Sharif squandered the opportunities that came his way and Imran Khan exposed himself to be dangerously inconsistent, leaning heavily on the un-elected elements and making “hypocritical” U-turns.

Asked, if he would meet Nawaz Sharif or Imran Khan for political alliance, he said: “I have no desire to meet them.”

The PPP chief, however, added the meetings could take place after the general election, when the parties might need each other to form the coalition government in the centre.

The PPP is hoping to make a comeback in the Punjab with a few encouraging rallies in the populous province – that decides who will rule the country.

Apart from the rallies, the PPP is also expecting some electables 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.

Individuals such as Faisal Saleh Hayat are no longer seen with respect in the party for their betrayals but the PPP leadership is obliged to welcome them back under the “doctrine of necessity”.

The PPP is optimistic that more influential politicians – annoyed with the PML-N and the PTI – 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 the Punjab could give the party a realistic chance to lead a coalition government in the centre.

Bilawal however, has higher expectations and insists on even forming the provincial government in the Punjab.

Currently, the PPP leads the government in Sindh, the PTI in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, while the PML-N has its governments in the centre and the Punjab.

Balochistan has a coalition government led by the PML-Q.

On Tuesday, PPP Secretary General Nayyar Bokhari said the PPP and the other opposition parties did not break any rules or endangered democracy by nominating joint candidates for the Senate chairman and the deputy chairman’s slot.

“The opposition had a majority in [the] Senate so its candidates were elected. The PPP is optimistic to win the general election. We will form governments in the centre and the provinces,” he said, while addressing a joint news conference with Qamar Zaman Kaira and Senator Maula Bux Chandio.

Bokhari said the PPP stood for democracy and would never become part of any conspiracy against the system.

Qamar Zaman Kaira said Nawaz Sharif was conspiring against the system.

“They [the PML-N] challenged us to stop them and we stopped them. It’s so simple,” he quipped.

Kaira said Zardari would return to power.

“Even the Senate echoed with the slogans of Zardari’s comeback,” he contended.

Kaira said when some lawmakers supported the PPP; the Sharif family called it an anti-democracy step.

“When they [the lawmakers] back the PML-N, is it good for democracy,” he asked.

Kaira said the party would win the general election under the leadership of Bilawal and Zardari.

He said the Sharif family was facing corruption cases due to their own wrongdoings. 

Senator Maula Bux Chandio said Bhutto had won the senate chairman election and Sharif family’s arrogance had lost.

“It’s only the beginning. The general elections are coming. Keep your fingers crossed,” he remarked.