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Parliament watch: Ebb and flow of the political tussle in Punjab and Sindh

Parliament watch: Ebb and flow of the political tussle in Punjab and Sindh

With the local government elections in Punjab and Sindh set for November and December, the political climate is heating up all around as the two domineering provinces influence the politics of the entire country. The Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) is rearing to give a tough time to the PML-N, entrenched in Punjab, and the PPP struggling to save its rule in Sindh, in order to consolidate its hard won image of a third force in the arena.

But clearly Punjab will be the main battleground for all. It has been ‘the bastion of power’ since the birth of Pakistan because more than 50 per cent of the country’s population lives there.

Even PPP’s chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari looks more keen to revive the party’s lost fortunes in the province than concentrating on Sindh where it has been losing its control and popularity. Smaller political parties can only stay relevant by aligning themselves with one of the big fighters.

Most political observers think the major electoral battle will be fought in Punjab between the PML-N and the Imran Khan’s PTI. Indeed, a significant trend is noticeable among former lawmakers and aspirants with their own traditional constituency leaving the PML-Q and PPP, depleting the two parties.

They see the PTI as the real challenger to the incumbent Sharif brothers in Punjab. Former PPP ministers Sumsam Bokhari of Okara and Tariq Ahmad of Narowal, and PML-Q minister Sardar Sehar of Layya are the big names among the many of known political families who have deserted to the PTI and ready to give PML-N opponents “a run for their money”.

Politics being a game of the possible, broader consensus has been developing between seven Punjab-based political parties including PTI, PPP and PML-Q to join hands wherever possible against the PML-N candidates in local government elections.

They met last week to discuss the possibility of seat-to-seat adjustment at local levels, and other areas of cooperation in the electoral contest in the Punjab. PTI’s Punjab organiser Chaudhry Sarwar, PPP Punjab president Mian Manzoor Wattoo, Jamaat-i-Islami’s secretary general Liaquat Baloch, Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s secretary general Nawaz Gundapur, the Majlis-i-Wahdatul Muslimeen’s secretary general Raja Nasir Abbas, PPP’s south Punjab president Makhdoom Ahmad Mahmood and Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan’s secretary general Pir Ijaz Hashmi attended the meeting where the Sunni Ittehad Council was also represented.

Their gathering — especially of PPP and PTI under one roof – was enough for the overconfident PML-N to prick its ears. Its well-oiled information cell, reportedly run by none other than Maryam Nawaz Sharif, immediately let loose a barrage of propaganda against the PPP and the PTI. It hit the air waves asking: Had Imran Khan and his party not been tearing the PPP leadership apart for its corruption? Is cosying up to the corrupt for electoral gains also not political corruption?

Soon the sharp tongues of a group of treasury benches lawmakers, whose only job looks to berate the political adversaries and other critics of the PML-N leadership, made the PTI and the PPP separately “clarify” the intended purpose of their meeting. Their spokespersons claimed that the primary objective of the meeting was that like-minded political parties join hands against the incumbent members of the election commission and to reject Punjab local government ordinance.

It is true that both the parties had demanded the resignation of the four members representing the provinces on the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) following the judicial inquiry commission noted mismanagement in the conduct of 2013 general election and that, along with other political parties, had rejected the Punjab local government ordinance for allowing the chief minister, for the immediate purposes Shahbaz Sharif, to keep his control over the strings of provincial purse.

Regardless of the PML-N governments’ outbursts against the combined opposition in the run up to the forthcoming local elections in Punjab, an exciting contest is on the cards.

Of course, the incumbency factor favours the PML-N but the PTI looks equally determined to put up a vigorous fight after so many former PPP and PML-Q politicians have joined its ranks. Likewise, PPP’s Bilawal is straining to pass the first test of his political prowess. If he is able to rekindle the old glory among the party’s diehard workers at the grassroots, that could be possible. But outsiders wonder if his father, Asif Ali Zardari, had delivered deadly blows to that prospect by what PPP detractors call his “fulminations” against the establishment.

Against a tally of 48 Members of the National Assembly which the PPP won in the 2013 election, only came from Punjab. It blames the huge defeat on the threatening Taliban.

At a smaller scale, political currents are also changing in Sindh. If the Rangers-led operation in Sindh continues with the same force the prospects of the lame duck PPP and the defensive MQM in the upcoming local government elections look dark, despite the urban-based MQM’s good showing in the recent by-elections.

That, however, together with the ban decreed on MQM Chief’s speeches and media coverage, and its many leaders on the run, makes prospects of the PTI brighter.

Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2015

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