October issue 2017

By | Published 2 years ago

What were your first thoughts about the NA-120 result?

The result is worrying for us, especially considering the low number of votes we received. But we need to consider that the elections in Lahore were conducted in certain circumstances.

This particular election was fought under the backdrop of Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification, so all his companions were fully charged, and then, all the resources of the federal and provincial governments were in play.

Furthermore, an impression was created in the mainstream and social media that there were only two contenders in the election, and hence voting for the People’s Party would benefit Nawaz Sharif, since the vote opposing him would be divided. Hence, a lot of PPP workers voted ‘anti-Nawaz’ — votes which went to the PTI, in order to beat our traditional rival Nawaz Sharif.

Even so, we can’t deny that there is cause for concern. We have to figure out whether there is a problem with our message, or if it is not being conveyed. We are studying it and we will figure out a way to better deliver our message.

Nobody is quite sure what the PPP’s message for the Punjab is. So what is it?

We don’t have a message for just the Punjab — we are not a provincial entity — our message is for all of Pakistan. That message is strengthening Pakistan as a federation, supporting the downtrodden, fighting for labourers’ rights, increasing the wages of workers, giving the farmers their due, safeguarding the weak and the minorities and standing up against terrorism. The PPP’s message is very clear and it is for Pakistan — there is no separate message for the Punjab.

So if the PPP’s narrative is clear — and has been more or less the same for almost five decades — resulting in electoral successes in the past, does that not mean that the masses are no longer buying it?

The problem isn’t the message, it’s the messaging. Whether there are organisational problems or something else — that is what we have to study to be able to overcome our flaws.

Even though the PPP claims to be a federal party and you say that your policy is the same throughout the state, don’t you think there are certain province-specific issues that need to be addressed separately?

Federal parties definitely have regional perspectives, but they aren’t designed according to provinces. For example, the issues relating to farmers, students, youth, women, government officers, pensioners, minorities — these are the same all over the country. It’s the nationalist parties that concern themselves with province-specific issues.

You mention PPP being at the losing end of the aim to bolster the anti-Nawaz vote. Why didn’t it impact the rise of the Islamist parties?

The religious vote was given according to sectarian and ideological adherence. These parties, demarcated along ideological lines, asked their adherents to show their strength, for the first time, knowing they wouldn’t win, but could at least express their power. It was a case of getting the head count in one particular constituency, and that is expected to continue in other constituencies. That particular vote [which the hardliners garnered] had no political reasoning; it was a simple case of religious messaging.

So if they are going to apply this strategy in other constituencies, don’t you think the Islamist bloc could grow into a strong political entity in the Punjab by next year?

These parties, including the likes of the Jamaat-i-Islami, have a scattered vote bank. Any party that asks for a vote on religious or sectarian grounds can only muster support in patches across the country. The scattered vote could only be unified if there were proportionate representation, otherwise they would only collect votes in pockets, which might boost their overall vote count, but may not win them any seats.

What is the PPP’s strategy to bring its voter back?

Our revamped manifesto is in the works. We are reorganising. And all of this is being done with the consultation of PPP workers, so that we can update it to [keep up with] the current ground realities catering to all the relevant sectors. We will share the manifesto very soon. And we hope that when the restructuring is visible, it will have a positive impact. The PPP has always made realistic promises and lived up to them.

What would you say to those who claim the PPP is ‘done and dusted’ in Punjab?

I would ask them to watch our rallies. When we rally, people come out. They come out to listen to the chairman. They may not come out to vote for me in the election, they might not listen to me, but they are listening to PPP Chairman Bilawal, which means that the PPP worker is out there. We just need to rectify our shortcomings, Allah will take care of the rest.