Like well-bred Pakistanis, most PPP leaders are putting up a brave face and blaming a local and international conspiracy for their horrific defeat in the recent elections. They were wiped out from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and from the Punjab. The two seats they managed to win in South Punjab were thanks to Makhdoom Ahmed Mehmood, who crossed over only a few months back from PML-F to PPP for the prized position — Governor of Punjab.
Outcry about conspiracy is indeed not without grounds. As I had stated in my column before the elections that this time IJI was made by Taliban, who attacked the liberal parties and allowed the center-right parties to carry out the election campaign in full-blast. The PPP’s conspiracy theory is thus partially correct. But the entire blame cannot be placed on the conspiracy theory. PPP should take this defeat seriously and brainstorm on the real causes of the debacle. Introspection is in order.
In Sind it managed to retain more or less the 2008 position. The PPP leaders who claim that there was a major conspiracy against their party have no explanation why the ‘grand conspiracy’ did not work in Sindh. They are also shy to publically admit that the margin of winning candidates shrank in 2013, as against the 2008 elections. Just a cursory look at the PPP National Assembly winners list shows that all those who won were big landlords of the province, except three—Ayaz Soomro, Khurshid Shah and Nauman Sheikh.
Now let’s look at PPP elections statistics. In 2008 in spite of the strong sympathy wave surged by brave Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, PPP did not get a simple majority. It polled 10.66 million votes out of over 35 million total votes cast. This gave it 91 seats in the direct elections, added with the reserved seats for women and minorities, PPP bagged 125 NA seats, which gave it a position to cobble a coalition government. In the 2013 elections, PPP polled 6.91 million votes out of 46 million total votes cast. It lost 3.75 million votes compared to 2008 polls. This slashed PPP’s NA seats in the direct election from 91 to just 32 seats only. Of the 6.91 million PPP total votes 46 percent were polled in Sindh and 35 per cent in Punjab.
On the other hand PML-N polled 14.87 million votes in 2013 as against just 6.8 million in 2008 scoring a massive increase of 8 million votes. But over 76 percent of PML-N votes belonged to Punjab. It was followed by PTI which bagged 7.67 million total votes out of which 64.54 percent belonged to Punjab and 13 percent from KPK. PTI polled 0.776 million votes more than PPP but it bagged 28 NA seats.
Now keeping these statistics in mind, it seems, that the general forecast before the elections, that if the voters’ turnout would be higher, PPP is going to lose its position, was right. In this election 46 million votes were cast which were 11 million votes more than in the 2008 elections. PPP strategists and many analysts, I must confess including myself, were of the view that PTI would cut into PML-N votes, but it seems PTI was benefitted by the higher voters’ turn out. The PPP failed to get a share of the increase in voters’ turnout and lost almost 35 percent of its vote bank. PML-N and PTI were the major beneficiaries of the increase in registered votes to 86 million in 2013 from the last election’s 81 million votes. The loss of over 3 million voters should be a rude awakening to PPP strategists, if they have any. Why the debacle?
PPP carried a heavy baggage of incumbency and was complacent. It believed till the last moment that its leader Asif Zardari will pull out some clever trick and they would sail out as winners in a triangular fight. Some even claimed that Zardari’s business partner property tycoon Malik Riaz had contributed to Imran Khan hoping he will divide PML-N votes. What PPP ignored was that it was entering elections with the five-year record of poor governance and unbridled corruption. And it had to bear the brunt of many external factors which were either inherited by it or were beyond its control.
The biggest shortcoming of PPP, analysts believe, is that there was no leader to lead its election campaign. Zardari didn’t allow any creditable PPP leader to emerge and relied heavily on his sister Faryal Talpur and the corrupt prime ministers he crowned. The charisma of Benazir Bhutto was no more, and the sympathy vote which the party got after her assassination had dissipated. Most of the old guard are found saying ‘it is no more Bhutto’s party; it’s a Zardari’s party.’
Much of PPPP government’s energy was consumed in the battle between the various institutions vying for supremacy over parliament. But the party could have gained more space if it had kept itself away from corruption and cronyism. All along PPP stood at weak moral ground. True other institutions which were destablising its government have also no shinning record, but their image was not as stained as that of PPP. This tussle for more power between the normal institutions-of-the-state i.e. executive, judiciary and the parliament did not let the system which was in its infancy to stablise.
PPP-led government inherited the dangerous geo-strategic policy set by Pakistan’s military rulers. This embroiled the country in regional disputes with devastating social, economic and political consequences. Coalition government’s attempt to build relations with India was sabotaged by the agencies and their Jihadi outfits. Nawaz Sharif’s efforts were torpedoed by launching the Kargil operation. Zardari’s efforts were check-mated by the Mumbai massacre by the Jihadis.
The country continued to suffer from the terrorist activities of the Jihadi groups and the ruthless mismanagement of Balochistan’s nationalist movement by the agencies. This not only resulted in the killing of thousands of people, it seriously damaged Pakistan’s economic growth. PPP government failed to take the national security policy and Balochistan policy back from the GHQ. But it was held responsible for its failure.
However, politically PPP government claimed some big achievements. It helped the bloodless ouster of a military general by the politicians. A great leap forward was taken towards transfer of power and resources from the center to the provinces through the 18th Amendment and the NFC Award, something which we could not do in 64 years. Arbitrary presidential powers to oust an elected government and dissolve the assemblies were taken away. Press freedom which some people use to show their disappointment with democracy is an integral part of the same democracy. The parliament, whose basic function is to legislate, passed 134 laws and most of them with the consensus of the opposition. More women rights bills were passed during PPP’s tenure than ever before. This was not a small feat, but the voters were not impressed. And PPP leadership failed to explain the benefits of these measures to them.
On the governance side the government proved inefficient. Major failures for which the PPP-led coalition government is criticised are: corruption, energy, increased unemployment, high inflation, low tax revenue collection, public sector hemorrhaging impact on economy; depreciation of rupee against dollar by 58% in five years, falling foreign direct investment, and a low GDP growth.
Painful prolonged load-shedding of electricity and gas was at the top of all voters’ mind particularly in Punjab. PPP ministers failed miserably to resolve this problem for which voter punished them rightly.
Low investment due to an unstable and insecure environment resulted in high unemployment rate and double digit inflation in the country which affected the PPP vote bank, as it had always claimed to be the party of the poor. Its leadership was banking on the BISP programme which according to them helped 70 million poor families. They were expecting the recipients to vote for PPP, but they didn’t.
PPP leaders forget many of its voters are disenchanted with Zardari-style party management so they did not come out to vote. And that the party was without a leader with mass appeal to motivate its voters. Their election strategy did not factor in the increase in voters and their age profile. Above all Bhutto-led PPP in 1970 had rallied middle and lower middle classes in Punjab and the rural poor. Now PML-N has the support of the small, medium and big businesses of Punjab which continues to grow at a much faster pace than the national average. They changed the elections paradigm for an unorganized and leaderless PPP. (firstname.lastname@example.org)