Perhaps it is only natural for President Asif Ali Zardari to cast about for excuses in trying to explain why the PPP lost so heavily in the May 11 elections. However, such escapism is not likely to help him reach the sort of conclusions needed if he is to lead the party towards a renewal that would lead it towards a return to office. It was perhaps natural for him to seek reasons for the defeat when he arrived in Lahore on Sunday to a party in ruins. Not only has it suffered an even worse defeat in Punjab than in 2008, but it has resultantly lost office at the Centre. Not only have its Punjab office bearers resigned, but so has the Governor who received the President. However, President Zardari was blunt enough to say that he would not resign, as this would serve no purpose. Apparently, he did not realise that the vote was an overwhelming rejection of the PPP, and instead of conceding there were flaws in the way it ruled, he said that one of the reasons for the PPP defeat was that outgoing Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was busy in court appearances and thus unable to campaign effectively.

His arrival in Lahore while loadshedding had increased should have shown him that the PPP suffered because of this, and he would not have claimed the terrorist card, in which he claimed the Tehrik Taliban Pakistan threat affected the PPP’s ability to campaign. He did not explain what that campaign would have been based on, nor did he take account of the fact that the portion of the campaign that the TTP could not affect, its television advertising, was silent about the record of the PPP in office. At one level, this was obvious, so thin was that record, but at another it was highly counterproductive. It will also do the President no good to make snide remarks about Returning Officers. The tactic of alleging the election was stolen will only work among people if they saw malpractices. Where they saw the election as fair, they will not respond to such allegations.

The President may be feeling that September, when his term comes to an end, is coming close, and he is then going to have to retire, because his party has lost badly enough to be unable to re-elect him. However, that does not mean that it should not engage in a serious exercise to understand why it lost the election. That understanding is the first step towards the sort of reorganization that the President says he wants. As the PPP is one of the country’s major parties, it is essential that it arrives at a correct understanding of what happened, rather than fooling itself with the sort of excuses the President is propagating.