Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf appears to be riding the Pakistan Peoples Party’s apparent political slide downhill ahead of the local government polls scheduled to be held in September. PTI National Organiser Shah Mehmood Qureshi has promised a “big bang” defection from the PPP in Gujranwala on Thursday (today).
Last week, PPP leaders from Okara and Multan including Muhammad Ashraf Sohna, Samsam Bukhari, and Arif Lashari among others joined the PTI last week.
Qureshi, at the helm of PTI’s recruitment campaign, says the PPP’s downfall had occurred because of a disconnect between party workers and the leadership. A poor governance record and unpopular alliances with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz were decisions the party’s supporters did not own.
“People are disappointed at this marriage of convenience.” He says the PPP has shifted from an ideological stance to political expediency.
Previously a member of the PPP’s central executive committee, Qureshi says the PTI sees an opportunity in the PPP’s internal rifts. “Political parties grow by inducting battle-hardened workers.”
Following a round of defections from PPP in the Punjab, Qureshi says: “A lot of PPP’s big wigs in Sindh are reaching out to us and are waiting for the right time to jump ship.”
As for the rivalry between new inductions and old party leaders, Qureshi says much of the decision making in the PTI followed taking everyone into confidence. “Obviously it is going to take time to adjust to the new entrants.”
For Qureshi, the PPP is no longer a local government polls threat. He says he is confident that the forthcoming polls will be a match between the PTI and the PML-N.
PTI Punjab Organiser Chaudhry Sarwar says the new inductions will have a positive impact on constituency politics, especially in the wake of local government polls. “PPP workers who hold fast to Bhutto’s ideology feel abandoned by the party. Many of them now feel they can find that ideology in the PTI.” Sarwar has been charged with restructuring the party after a poor performance in the cantonment board elections was attributed to growing party factionalism in the local leadership. He dismisses the notion that an influx of PPP leaders in the party would pose new challenges. “There is no question of friction.”
Muhammad Ashraf Sohna, one of the latest entrants into the PTI, says he has joined the party too close to the local government polls to claim the right to party tickets for his supporters. “We have been welcomed into the PTI but…it is too early to make any demands.” This, however, has not prevented Sohna from making proposals regarding tickets for the local government polls.
Does the PPP have a shot?
Given the defections and rumours of more in days to come, the Punjab PPP leadership appears to be divided on the impact this could have on the party’s performance in the local government polls.
PPP Punjab president Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo dismisses the notion that the defections are weakening the party. “Constituency politics has always been very cruel…it has played with politicians’ desires to hold on to seats for power.”
Wattoo says those who have left the PPP were never really jiyalas to begin with. “This is a regular feature in political parties. It helps parties cleanse themselves of those who aren’t ideologically inclined towards the party ethos.”He insists that the PPP is a major contender in the upcoming polls. The party is currently working on its election nominations and campaigns through committees headed by its MNAs and MPAs.
Apart from defections, the party has also faced internal rifts. Punjab vice president Firdous Ashiq Awan submitted her resignation last week. Wattoo says the resignation was on moral grounds and has not been accepted. “Institutionally the party stands strong with a structured mechanism…we haven’t drifted away from our manifesto. We are still a party of the people.”
Awan disagrees. “Local polls will be a challenge for the PPP…We have to decide whether we are part of the government or the opposition.”
Awan says she is waiting for the party leadership to provide a strategy to address issues facing the Punjab PPP after Eid. “The Punjab organisation has felt abandoned for over a decade.”She says further delays in attempts by the PPP leadership to unite the party in the Punjab can be a serious blow to a party already threatened by the PTI’s advances.
“We have to see if this challenge can be turned into an opportunity.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2015.
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