Zardari's PPP: From Coining The Term 'Selected' To Getting Selected

Zardari's PPP: From Coining The Term 'Selected' To Getting Selected
As Yousaf Raza Gillani won the Senate opposition leadership with the assistance of senators in the miltablishment’s lap, there was little doubt about Pakistan People's Party (PPP)’s strategy. There has been a lot of hue and cry in the opposition over Gillani’s win, especially PML-N. The driving force behind the PPP’s tactics is best encapsulated by Zardari’s statement during Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)’s watershed meeting over resignations, where he admitted lack of strength to fight the establishment. 

In many ways, that statement is a precursor for PPP’s politico-legislative strategy. It is hard to imagine this is the same party who’s leader once stood up against General Zia equipped with loyal band of Jiyalas, returned from exile in 2007 amidst death threats and initiated far ranging socialist reforms at the expense of military. PPP has come a long way from being that party, for the reason that no political party can suffer the same fate for three generations of leaders. 

A corollary of that has been the party mastering the art of operating within this system. Rather than going for the jugular vein of the regime, Bilawal and Zardari have stuck to talking about major, macro-economic problems such as the State Bank Act which aims to eliminate oversight by elected authorities. They have criticised rising inflation, conflicts of interest on key government positions and inadequate vaccination. 

Pick a Bilawal, or any PPP speech in the last couple months, or since 2018 and the farthest they’ve gone is refer to a selector. The PPP top brass continues to invoke successive assassinations of its leaders to prove its democratic cause but refrained from targeting miltablishment directly. On the comparative, PML-N’s top brass has termed power imbalance as the root cause of political and economic instability.

This is the new PPP. Rather than opt for grassroots movements, mobilise bottom up pressure against regime operators, it has learned to navigate and circumvent legislative and power corridors. Take the 2017 upheaval of Balochistan government or Sanjrani’s 2018 chairmanship, both orchestrated by a shrewd Asif Zardari. Gillani’s victory in Senate over Hafeez Sheikh and winning opposition leadership has similar undertones: a proclivity to avoid the streets, and work for a higher payoff inside the system.

Zardari’s strategy also stems from PPP’s elevated importance in the current system because the biggest opposition party, the PML-N, is vying for a radical paradigm shift in power sharing. This has translated into better chances of quid pro quo with powers that be.

A dissection of PPP’s current politicking ties neatly into Najam Sethi’s argument that for change to happen, the principle guarantee of protection for establishment’s interests and kingpins is must. The PPP has offered a semblance of that by refusing to name and shame king pins like Nawaz has done.  

When the PPP refused to resign from National Assembly and Sindh government during PDM’s watershed meeting, a reliable insider of the PML-N mentioned that this decision must have received ovation from the overlords. As early as last November, PML-N’s Khawaja Asif had openly voiced distrust of Asif Ali Zardari’s political wheeling and dealing. The apprehensions of some inside PML-N’s top brass have materialised into reality. PPP has sidetracked PML-N in the race to power inside the hybrid system. The rest of PDM have been left paralysed by the PPP, who secured a victory in alliance with regime senators.

In a week that laid bare the bizarre and deep seated conflicts amongst the alliance's two major parties, there were also flashbacks of the past. Pakistan’s two biggest traditional political parties were at loggerhead yet again.  The roles may have reversed in this round of PML-N vs PPP, but the outcome would be the same as that in 90’s: the overlords win.

Perhaps, the most disappointing aspect of Gillani’s election is that it was the PPP that launched the term ‘selected’. Yet, little did anyone suspect that they themselves would become 'selected'.

For those who are unable to reconcile PPP’s current strategy with the Bhutto eras, always remember: this is Asif Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party.

The writer is co-founder Future of Pakistan Conference and a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science.