After his Lahore outbursts, the president made two more key stop-overs in Punjab – one to Multan and the other to Okara.
The visits by President Asif Ali Zardari are the official beginning of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)’s Punjab strategy for the next general elections which are under a year away, sources privy to the plan told The Express Tribune.
The PPP’s plan comprises a number of estimations. First, it will look to consolidate its strongholds in Punjab. According to officials, the PPP has 51 directly-elected members of the National Assembly from Punjab.
Here the PPP will up its game politically, with visits by high-level members, including the president himself, and rolling out large chunks of development funds. The projects in these areas will be announced by President Zardari himself, according to sources. In tandem, the prime minister is already actively touring southern Punjab districts.
Having travelled to Multan earlier, where the president announced a number of projects, the president played up the Seraiki/south Punjab province rhetoric.
A few days later, on Friday, President Zardari visited Okara district, where he also inaugurated a number of projects. The exact location of the projects and his visit is interesting.
Okara district is located in the Sahiwal division – which comprises Sahiwal, Okara and Pakpattan districts. Sahiwal district is the headquarters of the division, which has a total of 12 MNA seats – seven held by PPP, four by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and one by PML-Q.
However the president visited and based himself exclusively in Okara – where there are five MNA seats, all of which are held by PPP candidates. Other areas, traditionally strongholds of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), were ignored completely. The seats are held by prominent PPP leaders such as Manzoor Wattoo and Sumsam Bukhari.
President Zardari inaugurated some key projects, among which was the Benazir Education City, Sweet Homes – the keys of which were distributed among farmers hailing from district Okara, some PPP strongholds in Sahiwal districts. Pakpattan was completely ignored, being a PML-N stronghold.
Ignoring these areas for now is a gamble – but a considered one. Sources in PPP told The Express Tribune that the party’s study of Sahiwal division, and other similar ones, resulted in the conclusion that they would let PML-N and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) duke it out in districts Sahiwal and Pakpattan in the upcoming election. PTI has already recruited many hot candidates from these districts. The sources said PPP would later see how it could take advantage of the PML-N-PTI head-to-head.
Another interesting aspect of this area is whether or not the PPP looks to have it included in the south Punjab province push. PML-N is reluctant to include it in South Punjab but President Zardari during a meeting with representatives of the area expressed his willingness to include the division in south Punjab.
The president’s next visit will be to Bahawalpur and then back towards Gujrat.
Correction: Gujrat was misspelt in an earlier version of this article. The correction has been made.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 23rd, 2012.