November 30th marked the 54th year of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) inception and the major founding day ceremony was held in Peshawar. PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari vowed to continue the mission of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and fulfil the commitment he made to the masses while laying the foundation of the party in 1967 in the heart of Pakistan, Lahore.
Amongst the existing notable parties of the country, the PPP is second only to Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) that has been here for over five decades. The two noted factions of Muslim League including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was founded by Nawaz Sharif in 1993 whereas Pakistan Muslim League – Q (PMLQ) came into existence just months after the October 1999 bloodless coup.
PPP is the only party that has remained intact despite its leadership facing executions and eliminations. On a number of occasions, new factions were carved out of it in the form of National People’s Party, PPP-Shaheed Bhutto and PPP-Patriot, but the party retained its individuality.
However, the shocking assassination of twice elected and only female prime minister of the country Benazir Bhutto left the party reeling. As things stand, its vote bank has drastically declined in Punjab, once a bastion of the PPP. Situation has been rather worse for PPP in Lahore where it even faced the shortage of candidates in the 2018 general elections. During the 2013 and 2018 polls, the party could not win a single seat in Lahore which used to be its stronghold till 1988 and where it put up a notable show in 1993, 2002 and 2008 elections.
Lahore, being the native city of Sharif brothers, has now become a PML-N stronghold and the ‘development’ narrative has helped the party quite well in keeping its strength intact since 1993.
However, PML-N is faced with a challenging situation these days in NA 133 where by-election is scheduled for December 5. The seat fell vacant after the demise of Pervaiz Malik, a respected political figure from Lahore who served as MNA for five times from Lahore. His widow, Shaista Malik, already a sitting MNA on reserved seats, is contesting on the PML-N ticket whereas PPP fielded its trusted and old stalwart Chaudhry Aslam Gill.
In a rare turn of events, the ruling PTI’s candidate, Jamshed Cheema, is not even in the run due to rejection of his papers by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). That is believed to have dented the party’s Central Punjab leadership as in 2018, PTI’s Ejaz Chaudhary grabbed around 77000 votes. Additionally, the provincial seat of the same constituency was also won by Nazir Chohan. This has made the NA-133 political turf interesting. PTI’s silent vote bank could prove to be a real difference just in case it supports the PPP.
In the 1988 elections, PPP had won both the national and provincial assembly seats. In the following years, notable figures like Liaqut Baloch, Tariq Bandey and Ishaq Dar remained victorious till 1997. In 2002, the constituency was demarcated and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) head Tahir ul Qadri grabbed the seat. In 2008 and 2013, the seat went to PML-N’s Naseer Bhutta and Waheed Alam Khan respectively.
Thee PAT hasn’t |fielded its candidate in the current by-elections and political pundits speculate PAT’s vote bank is likely to go in favour of the PPP since top leadership of the party had sought PAT’s support. Similarly, PPP is also approaching PTI for support and a double party support may hand PPP a rare win.
Given successive run, the PML-N camp, however, seems optimistic and sees getting over the line with ease. The PML-N believes the public would trust the party as it ensured record development in this constituency.
The PPP, nevertheless, is rather serious about this by-election and its camp seems quite charged. The workers hope that it won’t be a one-sided contest this time. PPP’s key leaders including former PM Raja Pervez Ashraf, Hassan Murtaza, Palwasha Khan and Shehla Khan have all actively campaigned. Likewise, PPP’s social media wing has also put up serious effort towards this cause.
If PPP stands victorious or even takes the contest closer, it could prove an indicator of its comeback in the next general elections. And this is probably the last chance for the party before the next general elections to test its strength in a constituency where the PML-N has had successive victories.