PPP: Winds of Change?

Spearhead Analysis – 19.10.2016

By ShahBano Khan
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

Bilawal Bhutto ZardariIn a rare and impressive show, the ruling party in Sindh staged a rally in Karachi to pay homage to party workers, activists, and supporters who were killed in a blast at Benazir Bhutto’s homecoming rally near Karsaz in October 2007. Being termed as a “Salam Shuhuda Rally”, the caravan was spearheaded by its young leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who addressed the large gathering at several checkpoints between the planned route from Bilawal House to the Karsaz intersection. While the rally commemorated the victims of the Karsaz bombing, it was primarily meant as a symbolic gesture signaling the winds of change: PPP’s tentative political revival.

While the PPP Chairman, accompanied by senior party leaders, made steep promises to bring ‘change to Pakistan’, it is perhaps the first time that the PPP scion has ventured out of the confines of Sindh’s political circuitry, which is also his home base. It is only now, in the face of a different Pakistan and a changing global world that Bilawal Bhtutto Zardari plans to resume his role in not only PPP’s alleged revival but also its transformed relationship with governance itself. Being the largest opposition in the first ever democratically transitioned government, it has come a long way since its last stint in forming a federal government. In addition, PPP makes the better part of the Sindh Government, and has enabled them to sharpen their constitutional knowledge and political know how. Although Pakistan’s next general elections are planned for 2018, political parties are nonetheless busy augmenting their own future political sagas in hopes of capturing a burgeoning electorate.

PPP’s latest rally has taken a ‘two pronged’ approach to launch themselves; or how our vibrant Urdu language would describe it: “ek teer se do nishane” (Kill two birds with one stone). On the provincial level, the party is up against MQM’s power base in Karachi. While the rest of the province is under PPP’s jurisdiction, its capital seems to have its own ethnic demography, thus not just distributing power but also deflecting direct and assertive action from any one center. But with MQM divided between London and Karachi and national sentiment somewhat not swinging in that favor, it is a perfectly timed moment for PPP to take advantage of the break in Karachi’s armor. On the other hand, the rally was also aimed at PML-N, the ruling party in Pakistan, one that has come under fire from the usually friendly opposition. While addressing the crowd, Bilawal demanded that the incumbent government appoint a foreign minister, renew a resolution concerning the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to be implemented to ensure all provinces get an equal share, and an acceptance of the bill presented by PPP in the assembly in reference to the Panama Leaks. In addition, Bilawal and his party have pledged to win the national assembly in the next general elections.

It is clear that the party has tried to capitalize on the political situation of the country, but political rhetoric and street power is not necessarily a recipe to capture those power polls. While PPP is one of the oldest and dominant parties in Pakistan’s political arrangement, but it is only now that a new face is emerging under a younger and perhaps a more robust leadership. For starters PPP has to not only make a clear distinction between Sindh and Karachi, and that ruling Sindh does not always translate into ruling Karachi. Many a time’s urban centers are where decisions are made, progress measured, and parties congregate. But more importantly, the state of governance is unveiled in urban centers, and PPP has always had an unsteady relationship with governance. Recent shuffle in the provincial cabinet has signaled a shift in that narrative; the appointment of Murad Ali Shah being a shining example. But while PPP is visible on the national news and the provincial front, it is yet to be seen if the changes are real or mere cosmetic adjustments.

The Karachi rally hints at PPP’s enthusiasm for breaking away from its provincial status; in addition to addressing Pakistan’s political establishment, Bilawal went on to speak to the international community also, especially the Indian prime minister Modi. In reality, what has to be seen is if there is a perceptible break between the ‘old guard’ and the ‘new face’ to gage the level of PPP’s revival. The old party has come to be known as corrupt and inefficient, despite Z. A. Bhutto and his daughter Benazir Bhutto’s attempts at projecting their unique political sensibility in the party. The question is: What will be Bilawal’s legacy?