The PPP, once proclaimed as the party of the federation, is written off today in power calculus in three provinces of the country. And dissensions within a weak political party are not something surprising. In this backdrop, the disappearance of Bilawal Bhutto from the scene after reported differences with his father, recent outbursts of the loud-mouthed Mirza and his subsequent expulsion from the party, only send the signal to jiyalas that little is being done for much-needed party reorganization. The question is, who is to blame for the increasing irrelevance of the party on the political landscape?

Zardari assumed the mantle of party leadership after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and with his irresistible lust for keeping himself in power, he threw every caution to the wind. He attempted to project the PPP as a victim of conspiracies and picked up battles with the Supreme Court, but the performance of his government at the center and in the province of Sindh remained abysmal by any standards. The uncontrolled corruption of coalition governments in KP and Baluchistan also did their bit to discredit the PPP, then steering the ship of the state. Along came the elections of 2013, and the public handed down a disgraceful defeat to the party, with 6, 3 and 0 seats in Punjab, KP and Balochistan provincial assemblies. The myth of jiyalas staying home, in the case of not voting for the PPP, was also busted in the polls.

The lackluster performance of the party in the general elections was no doubt a moment of crisis but it could be turned into an opportunity, provided the willingness and capacity of the party leadership were in a ready state. The PPP should have taken steps to overhaul the governance in Sindh on the one hand and put up genuine and robust opposition at the center on the other. But, unfortunately, after two years the miserable failure of the PPP on both counts is evident. The COAS made no bones in his criticism of the governance in Sindh, in a recent meeting convened to discuss the National Action Plan. The presence of ghost schools, ghost teachers, absentee doctors, unbridled political interference in the functioning of district administration and police, characterize the working of the Sindh government but the party leadership is unmoved. The MPs from Sindh are too shortsighted in their approach when they concern themselves with the narrow goal of winning elections from their constituencies but it is the job of the party leadership to realize that the political environment in other provinces has changed. The display of poor performance might not stir the voter in Sindh, where the appeal of the ‘Bhutto factor’ and political affiliations of feudal families determine the outcome of elections, but will definitely stack the odds against the party in the rest of the country. Coupled with the PPP’s failings, the PTI’s relatively better performance in KP is likely to make the next elections of 2018 a fight between the PML-N and the PTI.

The calls of saner elements within the PPP to focus on reorganizing the party in line with altering socio-political dynamics have so far fallen on deaf ears. Party leaders from the Punjab have also on various occasions communicated their concerns but were not heeded by the central leadership. Nothing has come out of plans to launch Bilawal Bhutto to revitalize the popular support base. Even if Bilawal agrees to play this role, the chances of his success in achieving the aim without something tangible to show in Sindh will be slim. The PPP raises the slogans on behalf of the poor but the fate of haris and tenants in its home province belies the credibility of its claims.

To undertake governance reform, to start with, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, a senile chief executive, must be replaced with a more vibrant and active personality. Two, the bitter pill of eliminating political interference in a bureaucracy should be swallowed and, third, a strong accountability mechanism should be devised to take corrupt officers to the task. In Punjab, the party should take up the issues faced by common people and highlight the lopsided policies of the ruling party.

The resuscitation of the PPP is very necessary for keeping the national politics a lively affair. Take the recent example of the bill to establish military courts. The PTI is very good at finding faults but lacks experience in bringing something positive to offer. The parliamentary members of the PPP strived hard to water down the impinging effects of the establishment of military courts on fundamental rights. The right to select cases for trial in military courts was kept with the civilian authorities and the right to appeal in the Supreme Court was preserved. Likewise, the provincial assembly of Sindh surpasses the other three provinces in terms of the progressiveness of its enactments. Thus the decline of the PPP, if not reversed, will leave the political arena free for far-right and center-right political forces.