LAHORE: The real battlefield in the upcoming general elections will be Punjab, as the fact of Pakistan’s political dynamics are such that whosoever wins in Punjab will form the government in Centre. While this has been obvious for decades, the real game changer for the anticipated elections in Punjab are the inroads the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have silently made in Pakistan’s most populous and most important province.
Many political pundits continue to believe that the real contest in Punjab – and in Pakistan’s next general elections – will be between the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N). However, this simplistic binary ignores the shrewdness – or sagacity, depending on how one looks at it – of former president and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, who has the singular ability to turn the tables in his favour. Known as the ‘king of reconciliation’, Zardari’s politics over the past decade or so is full of examples where he became the deciding factor at the most opportune moment.
Analysts familiar with ongoing developments and ground realities of Punjab province are of the opinion that Zardari holds the blueprint of Pakistan’s future politics. To substantiate this argument, they point to an increasing number of ‘electables’ in South Punjab who have joined PPP after leaving both the PMLN and the PTI. Doing so ahead of expected general elections in Punjab is likely to strengthen the PPP, especially in South Punjab.
It may be recalled that PPP was almost entirely wiped out from Punjab in the last two general elections, and only managed to secure a total of 7 provincial assembly seats in the 2018 general elections. 4 of these were from Rahim Yar Khan (Ghazanfar Ali Khan, Mumtaz Ali, Rais Nabeel Ahmed and Syed Usman Mehnood), one seat was from Chiniot (Syed Hassan Murtaza), one seat was from Multan (Syed Ali Haider Gillani) and one reserved seat for women (Shazia Abid).
It is pertinent to mention that PPP had managed to secure 93 Punjab Assembly seats in the 2008 general elections, followed by only 8 seats in the 2013 elections. This trajectory made people believe that PPP was dead in Punjab, but recent high profile inductions convince all and sundry that former president Asif Ali Zardari is playing his cards prudently and astutely.
PPP could win six Punjab Assembly seats from Muzaffargarh alone
PPP is very much likely to make a comeback in the upcoming elections and is expected to win as many seats from Muzaffargarh district alone.
In Muzaffargarh district, provincial minister Syed Haroon Sultan Bukhari and his wife (Syeda Farah Batool) along with electables Alamdar Qureshi and Sardar Allah Wasiya Leghari, joined PPP ranks, due to which the party is likely to clinch at least 6 out of 11 provincial assembly seats up for grabs in the district.
PPP’s Ameer Akbar Sial likely to win from PP-268
Political insiders purport that PPP is in a better position in PP-268, where PPP’s candidate is Mehr Ameer Akbar Sial, the younger brother of PPP stalwart Mehr Irshad Ahmed Sial.
Irshad Sial had managed to win PP-254 Muzaffargarh-IV seat in 2008 for PPP, by securing 22,237 votes. However, he came in third place in the 2013 elections by securing 16,602 votes. In the 2018 general elections, he was elected as MNA from NA-182 on the PPP ticket by securing 53,054 votes.
PPP could possibly lose PP-269
In PP-269, PPP faced a setback as the old guard from this constituency, Chaudhry Ehsan ul Haq Ahsan Nolatia, joined PTI and a neck and neck contest is expected between him and Malik Qasim Yar Hanjra, who is from PMLN. PPP is therefore weak in the PP-269 constituency.
In the 2002 general elections, Nolatia had emerged victorious from the former PP-253 Muzaffargarh-III seat for the first time on PPP’s ticket in 2002. He secured 26,000 votes against PMLQ’s 20,395 votes, secured by Malik Ghulam Murtaza Rahim Khar in second place. In 2008, he was re-elected from the PP-253 seat by securing 22,624 votes and defeating Khar for the second time.
In 2013, Khar emerged victorious on PML-N’s ticket from this seat while Nolatia stood third. However, this time Nolatia will be up against Hanjra who has emerged victorious in 2018 on PMLN’s ticket from PP-268 in 2018 and they would be contesting against each other from PP-269.
Nail-biting contest expected between PTI and PMLN in PP-270
PPP is also weak in PP-270, where another neck and neck contest is expected between a PPP turncoat, Khalida Mohsin, who had previously served as senator, and the wife of former PPP MNA Mohsin Ali Qureshi who was elected twice, as well as the mother of Dr Shabbir Ali Qureshi who has served as minister of state during PTI’s tenure.
Khalida is contesting against Malik Ahmed Yar Hanjra of PMLN, who served as MPA for three consecutive terms from the previous PP-251 constituency: on PMLQ’s ticket in 2002 and 2008, and then on PMLN’s ticket in 2013. Hanjra is currently an independent candidate, as PMLN has not issued party tickets so far.
Alamdar Qureshi all set to clinch PP-273 for PPP
According to political pundits, Alamdar Abbas Qureshi, another ‘electable’ from South Punjab, is likely to clinch his seat for PPP. Qureshi was elected as an MPA for the first time in 2013 from PP-255 (Muzaffargarh-V) as an independent candidate, and he joined PMLN in May 2013.
In 2018, he was re-elected from PP-277 (Muzaffargarh-X) again as an independent candidate by securing 34,302 votes, against another independent candidate Iqbal Pitafi who secured 30,767 votes. Later, Qureshi joined PTI in August 2018.
This time Imran Khan awarded the party ticket initially to Iqbal Pitafi, and later it was given to Malik Imran Dhontar, who is speculated to lose the seat. Alamdar Qureshi’s decision to join PPP is seen as a huge blow to PTI.
Azan Shah Bukhari leading the charts in PP-272
Azan Shah Bukhari who managed to get a reasonable number of votes (14,400) in 2018 on PPP’s ticket in PP-270 against Abdul Hayee Dasti, who had won as an independent candidate by securing 17,675 votes. This time, the public pulse is in his favour, and he is likely to defeat both PTI and PMLN candidates.
Imran Khan likely to regret not awarding party ticket to Sardar Allah Wasiya Leghari
Political insiders told TFT that Allah Wasiya Leghari had told Imran Khan that he has distanced himself from his son Khurram Leghari. Khurram Leghari had won the 2018 elections as an independent candidate and later joined PTI, but ditched the party during the vote of no confidence. Imran Khan still ignored Allah Wasiya Leghari, and awarded party ticket to Muhammad Dawood Khan Jatoi, scion of the influential Jatoi family whose father and head of Jatoi tribe Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan Jatoi (yet another PPP turncoat) was defeated by Khurram Leghari in the 2018 general elections.
Haroon Sultan Bukhari, wife likely to win their seats
Another major blow to PMLN is former provincial minister and three-time MPA Haroon Sultan Bukhari, who recently joined PPP along with his wife. Political insiders claim that both husband and wife are in a better position than their competitors, and are likely to win their respective seats for PPP.
PPP’s strategy for next general elections
Former president Asif Ali Zardari and PPP chairman and foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto had given the task of fielding candidates in all constituencies to the central and south Punjab party organizations who, despite the uncertainty of the elections, have fielded candidates in 278 out of 297 contested constituencies. Out of these, the central Punjab organization issued tickets for 190 out of 202 seats, while the south Punjab organization issued tickets to candidates for 88 out of 95 seats.
In south Punjab, former governor and president of PPP south Punjab Makhdoom Ahmed Mehmood and former Prime Minister Makhdoom Yousaf Raza Gilani have done extraordinary work, due to which the old and influential political families in many areas have come back to the PPP fold.
Makhdoom Ahmed Mahmood is very hopeful that the results in the next election will be different from the past, and PPP will improve its six seats position many times over. Abdul Qadir Shaheen, coordinator of PPP south Punjab, says that party candidates are very strong in at least 35 out of 95 seats, and if the elections of May 14 are postponed, more prominent political figures will join PPP, after which the party’s position will consolidate further.
PPP Central Punjab still in shambles
On the other hand, PPP in central Punjab continues to suffer. Insiders say the party is in shambles. After provincial president Raja Pervez Ashraf became speaker of the National Assembly, the organization was completely paralysed. No one is ready to accept acting president Rana Farooq Saeed as an important party official; in fact, he is not on speaking terms with PPP central Punjab’s secretary general, Syed Hassan Murtaza.
This is one of the main reasons why no work has been done by PPP central Punjab in terms of searching for good candidates over the past year. Realizing the sensitivity of the matter, Faryal Talpur took affairs of central Punjab into her own hands and fielded 190 candidates overnight.
But the reality is that the entire exercise in central Punjab is just a mere eyewash, as pundits purport the majority of PPP candidates in central Punjab are not even suitable for contesting mayoral elections.
What is the PPP’s plan?
The million dollar question: why is the PPP doing all this in so much haste, especially in central Punjab?
PPP insiders claim that the recent exercise of distributing party tickets in Punjab is just an effort to keep the organizations busy. The ‘blueprint’ of Punjab’s political future is, once again, in Asif Ali Zardari’s pocket.
As per Asif Ali Zardari’s doctrine or formula, in the future political scenario, the PPP will not only increase its seats in the National Assembly from Punjab and join the race for prime minister at the centre, but will also try to increase its seats to 40 in the Punjab assembly so it could play a decisive role in the formation of next Punjab provincial government, just like PMLQ did in 2018.
For this purpose, they have fielded as many candidates in Punjab as possible, so that the maximum number of concessions can be obtained from PMLN in any potential seat adjustment before the elections.
Will PPP succeed?
Will PMLN, whose political supremacy in the Punjab over the past four decades has been nearly destroyed, give political space to PPP to get rid of PTI? What new narrative could PPP come up with in Punjab, to successfully challenge the popularity of Imran Khan and his popular narrative?
It seems that Asif Zardari is going to try his famous ‘politics of management’ in Punjab instead of the popular narrative.
Only time will tell whether Zardari will succeed in doing this or not. But if recent history is any indicator, it suggests that the success rate of Asif Zardari’s political adventures is brilliantly high; from ousting Imran Khan from the prime minister’s office, to securing Bilawal’s seat as the foreign minister, to supporting the government and parliament in the face of immense judicial activism.