The PPP has launched its third campaign to regain lost ground in the Punjab. Unfortunately, the first two campaigns did not bring the expected results. The PPP has failed to regain electoral support lost since the 2013 parliamentary elections. The crisis is much more serious and severe in central and northern Punjab than in southern Punjab.
The party hoped to make a comeback in the 2018 general election, but the disastrous results in Punjab have further demoralized party officials. The party won the lowest popular votes on record.
PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari launched the campaign from southern Punjab to gain traction, addressing several town halls and rallies in different districts of southern Punjab. The reason for raising hopes in this region is the fact that PfP has not lost support and ground in southern Punjab compared to central and northern Punjab.
Party support in southern Punjab was reflected in the results of the 2018 general election, when the PPP won five seats in the National Assembly from there. Some PPP candidates, including former Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, lost their seats with narrow margins. Not a single seat has been won for central Punjab and a single one for northern Punjab.
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If the PPP leadership wants to lead a coalition government in the center, it needs at least 40-50 Punjab seats. The party needs at least 25 seats from southern Punjab and a minimum of 15-20 seats from central and northern Punjab. This is the real challenge facing the direction of the PPP. This means that the party not only needs strong candidates (called elected officials) but also popular support to do so.
There are elected officials who can win elections without the support of any party. But they are only a handful. For them, the blessing of influential powers is enough to win in a constituency. Most elected officials not only need the support of the powers that be, but also a reasonable bank of party votes. That is why, each time, they choose a party most likely to win power. The most influential candidates from the traditional feudal families of southern Punjab will join the party when they are convinced it can help win the constituency.
The PPP still faces a daunting task to reclaim its lost political and electoral space and its support for the Punjab. Once a powerful political force in the province, the current position of the PPP is not even a shadow of its past glory.
The Punjab was a stronghold of the PPP, even after the hanging of ZA Bhutto and after 11 years of a ruthless and brutal military dictatorship that attacked the party with its powerful state power.
Zia’s dictatorship failed to crush the party despite unleashing a reign of terror. When a party-based election was called in 1988, the PPP – led by Shaheed Benazir Bhutto – was the most popular party in the country. The powers that be were forced to create the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), an alliance of pro-establishment right-wing parties to compete with the PPP. Even then, this alliance was not enough to prevent the PPP from winning a clear majority in the National Assembly and in the Punjab. So, as a last option, the 1988 election was tampered with.
The party can regain some of its lost glory and support with a popular narrative, radical slogans, and a progressive pro-people agenda and program. The party needs serious soul-searching in Punjab to develop an effective electoral strategy.
The PPP needs radical slogans, a pro-people agenda and agenda, and a clear, secular, progressive discourse if it is to make a comeback in Punjab. The party must return to its original socialist ideas and radical programs to regain the support of its poor voters and the working class.
The biggest challenge for the PPP leadership is to attract young people from the Punjab and make inroads into the middle class. The generation that formed the party and then resisted Zia’s dictatorship has died out. Many leaders and activists of this generation have left this world or have become too old to be politically active.
The PPP was once the party of the working class, the poor, the youth and the progressive middle class strata in Punjab. The radical left and the progressive middle intellectuals, political leaders and activists alongside students, workers and peasants have played a decisive role in making the PPP the most popular party of the workers and the poor.
The weakening of the student, worker and peasant movements and the domination of right-wing ideas among the middle class have weakened the party politically. The establishment and right-wing forces have also played their part.
It is true that the PPP is going through the most serious crisis in its history, but the party could still make a comeback in the Punjab if it focuses on winning over young people. The PPP needs a combination of active organization, radical politics and popular leadership.
The party was once seen as a force against the status quo and the voice of the working and exploited classes. He believed in freedom of thought, equality, economic and social justice, the redistribution of wealth and social progressivism. The progressive face of the party must be restored.
The PPP must return to its basic principles and reflections and develop its program and manifesto on the basis of these guiding principles: “Islam is our faith, democracy is our policy; socialism is our economy and all power to the people.
The writer is a freelance journalist.