ISLAMABAD: President Asif Zardari is believed to have set his sights on getting Pakistan People’s Party a larger share of seats in the upcoming local bodies elections in Punjab.
After signing the 18th Amendment Bill and having been relieved of many powers, the president has begun paying close attention to the affairs of the PPP in his capacity as co-chairperson, party sources said. Uppermost on his mind is how to conquer Punjab – widely considered to be Nawaz Sharif’s citadel – in the electoral battle.
He wants the PPP Punjab to not only prepare for the upcoming local government elections in Punjab but also build a strong electoral base for the next general elections to effectively counter the PML-N in its stronghold. In this context, President Zardari has decided to hold district-level meetings with the party’s local chapters, including elected representatives, people who lost the general election on PPP tickets, and the party activists who won nazim and councillor seats in the last local government polls. A meeting of the Sargodha district PPP office-bearers, former nazims and councillors, MNAs, MPAs, ticket-holders and a few ministers was held at President House on Monday evening, the party sources said. The meeting, chaired by President Zardari, continued till midnight.
More than 300 party activists from the Sargodha district had been invited. PPP secretary-general Jahangir Badar conducted the proceedings. He urged the meeting participants to give their frank opinion of the party’s standing and electoral prospects in Punjab. Sources said that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, Federal Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and Senator Faisal Raza Abidi came under criticism by the party cadre for a variety of reasons.
A senior PPP leader Chaudhry Nisar Razi Warraich said the PM secretariat was in control of bureaucrats who did not care a jot for the PPP activists. He demanded that party leaders well acquainted with workers should be appointed at the PM secretariat. He also slammed PM Gilani for appointing Hafizullah Cheema as adviser to the ministry of labour.
It was pointed out that Cheema had quit the PPP decades ago and had done nothing for the party in Sargodha yet he was appointed an adviser without taking the district chapter of PPP into confidence.
Other PPP office-bearers lashed out at Water and Power Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf for unannounced power cuts. Political Secretary to President Zardari, Senator Faisal Raza Abidi faced the party cadre’s ire for his alleged rude behavior with the PPP workers.
Malik Hamid Nawaz, a senior party figure from the district, suggested a new population census should be conducted and the local government constituencies demarcated in light of its results. He said the last census was conducted by a non-PPP government and electoral constituencies were marked out keeping in view the interests of the party in power. He said the incidents of crime and corruption were continually on the rise in Punjab but the media was only busy picking faults with the PPP government at the centre.
It was all because the PML-N maintained good relations with the media, he argued. After giving the party cadre a patient hearing, and jotting down their demands, President Zardari urged workers to reach out to the masses to prime the party for the electoral fights ahead. He said the achievements of the government such as signing of the NFC award, new status for Gilgit-Baltistan, Benazir Income Support Programme and the 18th amendment should be highlighted.
He said the party workers were the backbone of the PPP and he would ensure regular contact with party activists at the district level. He said he would hold such meetings with the party chapters of all the districts of Punjab. He announced that a committee headed by divisional presidents of the PPP should finalise names for party candidates for the upcoming local government elections in the province.