Pakistan Elections 2013: Is PPP’s Decline Momentary?

30 May, 2013    ·   3959

Portia B. Conrad on the future of the PPP in the aftermath of the elections in Pakistan

Portia B. Conrad
Portia B. Conrad
Research Intern

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is one of the most influential liberal political parties in the last sixty-five years. This time it has faced one of its worst defeats in the elections. Despite being the first civilian government to complete its full five-year tenure, it has failed to win the confidence of the electorate.

No other political party suffered as much as the PPP in the recent parliamentary elections. It has barely managed to emerge as the second largest party with 31 seats in the National Assembly. It has retained its stranglehold only in Sindh. Does this imply the beginning of the end of the PPP as a mainstream political party? Will the PPP boil down to just being a regional party?

PPP's Performance: An Analysis
This year the PPP has bagged only 65, 6 and 3 seats in the Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Assemblies. In Balochistan it could not get even a single one.
In the 2008 elections, the PPP, led by Asif Ali Zardari, secured 97 National Assembly seats. After getting 24 reserved seats for women and four reserved seats of minorities, the total number of National Assembly seats for the PPP was 124 in a house of 340. The party formed a coalition government with the help of the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and JUI-F.

After surveying the given statistics, one may note the percentage of seats won by the PPP in comparison to 2008 elections. There is a significant drop in percentage of acquiring seats by the PPP. For instance, in a city like Lahore, there is a drop by 22 per cent. Again, in Peshawar, the deterioration can be marked up to 30 percent.

PPP's Defeat: An Explanation
First, there was an impact on the PPP leadership after former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in 2007. Moreover, President Zardari’s corruption case is also in the open. The Pakistan People’s Party’s chairman, Bilawal, son of Benazir Bhutto and President Zardari, could not lead his party’s election campaign due to security threats. The Taliban had openly threatened to assassinate him. Bhutto’s election campaign was limited to video messages which he occasionally sent from Dubai.

Second, Pakistan is facing a shortage of over 6000 megawatts of electricity. There has been an absence of a comprehensive energy strategy, as well as a lack of political will to implement unpopular changes. The PPP-led coalition was so heavily plagued with corruption and inefficiency, especially noticeable in the rental power projects, that despite doubling the electricity prices, there was an increase in losses. There was a problem of insufficient revenue to support energy generation, along with low liquidity and high rates of tax default. The leadership assured that the energy crisis would be controlled some six months before the general election but it failed to fulfill its promise. 

Third, the PPP never fanned provincialism to gain political mileage. Despite reservations towards the poll results and the process of counting, their leaders accepted the projected outcome. Also, the selection of candidates within the PPP, in certain regions, like Karachi, was not ethnic or merit-based. Ethnic diversity being an important factor in Pakistan, the PPP did not pay much heed to it.

Fourth, for Yousuf Raza Gilani, vice-chairman of the PPP, the party was reluctant to contest the elections itself but President Asif Ali Zardari rejected the idea. For Gilani, more than differences with leadership, reorganization of the party was necessary. On the other hand, PML-N was campaigning for the charismatic Nawaz Sharif, who is also an experienced Prime Minister. In other words, there was a lack of star performers to represent the PPP.

Fifth, the inability to address the increasing violence in the country became a reason for the electorate not to support the PPP. Even during the religious ritual months, law and order was not in control when the PPP was in power. This annoyed the electorate. Being an lslamist country, Pakistan has sentimental attachments to the cause of violence by the extremists.

PPP: Is there a Hope?
Despite suffering a significant defeat at the centre and in three provinces, the PPP has surprised many by retaining its earlier position in Sindh by winning a simple majority again. Currently the Pakistan People’s Party has a majority in the upper house of the Parliament, at least for the next one and half years. Major legislation would not be possible for the new ruling party without the PPP’s consent. According to the trends, PPP could play an important role in the government formation if PML-N fails to get a simple majority in the 342 seat strong National Assembly.

The PPP can be a firm opposition that would strengthen the democracy and federation. In a scenario where the PTI has got close to the number of seats as the PML-N, it would become much more difficult to form a viable and effective coalition government. In a hung parliament the PPP with its majority in the Senate will hold the balance.

With Bilawal Bhutto coming up as a young leader, the youth of Pakistan will be able to identify with him more comfortably and this could be a strong base for the PPP to come back to power. Although the PPP has been reduced to being a regional party, it is still a force to reckon with in the future.