TO say the biggest political party in the country is going the way of the erstwhile American Whigs may sound preposterous.
But juxtaposing what the PPP can do against what it cannot and what it is not allowed to by its own innocent admissions, the question does arise: why persist with an outfit that is unable to deliver, unable to even properly function in government, for whatever reasons, under whatever compulsions?
The thesis is formed on a general agreement that there is very little to distinguish one claimant to power in Pakistan from another. This is aided by an atmosphere where large sections of the population are clamouring for change, a trend reflected in opinions in the media.
If the PPP is in the process of responding to these calls, the compulsions of power and the times have moved it away from its old popular positions rather than bringing it closer to the people.
It should be alarming to the PPP leadership that the size of the groups ready to listen to their explanations has shrunk drastically. The people are tired if not wary and the regional causes the PPP leaders have taken up could actually facilitate a reduction in the tally.
The PPP in its current term has plenty to show how, despite it compromises, it doesn’t quite have the mantle to ‘allow’ it to take decisions. Of course, the government has an explanation but why and for how long can the people continue to put their faith in the leaders when they know that, at the end of it, all they are going to get are explanations and more explanations about why the promise could not be fulfilled?
The party is ostensibly the biggest partner in myriad coalitions. Consequently, from a popular perspective, when it has taken a break from pleasing international banks and global power brokers, it is spending its energy and political capital on pandering to an ally from amongst the state institutions it cannot do without.
In moments when it is not, by chance, busy safeguarding its relationship with the army, the PPP can be found delivering to the pressure of other allies, say in Lyari.
The biggest party is very much a junior partner in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, was for long a forced appendage to the PML-N in Punjab and has been beholden to the blackmail of its allies in the federal government.
On all these fronts, it is the PPP which has been on the losing end of the negotiations.
It is not easy to find an instance where Prime Minister Gilani or President Zardari has been able to prevail upon their partners — international or local — save when it comes to numbers and other support needed for continuation in government. This makes for a strange coalition where the biggest shareholder comes across as the weakest.
The decisions continue to be dictated by partners and it is as if the PPP is content with being seen running the front office. Constrained by how it must accommodate its various partners, the party’s own role is rather limited to the passage of resolutions and a few bills in the assembly, which are good but not sufficient for finding favour with the people, if public sentiment is an indicator.
Inexplicably secure in its new theories about how an election can be won, a question the PPP is constantly asked is: what will be its rallying cry in the next polls? It seems some emphasis would — again — be on what the party was not allowed to achieve instead of what it was able to.
Not an easy thing to sell at the end of what by Pakistani standards would be a prolonged stay in power — the numbers exercise based on pockets of its support notwithstanding.
For example, the PPP cannot control the price of electricity or petrol or natural gas or inflation since the donors want subsidies to end.
It doesn’t have the magic stick to add the few thousand missing megawatts to the grid; the task requires patience and planning and cannot be completed overnight. Law and order is also a difficult area.
These are just some of the problems. It may be true that just as the PPP is unable to provide effective leadership in combating these ills, any party will struggle to overcome these ever-existing challenges.
The success will be limited, no matter who is in power in the country.
But then there are specific areas where President Asif Zardari’s party has failed to make advances, either because it is not trusted by the state actors or because its position is compromised due to the presence of an overbearing ally.
Among these areas are some where others are expected to have a more conducive environment for working than the always-complaining and always-suspicious PPP can ever hope to have.
If some recent conversations are something to go by, PPP activists are faced with a dilemma. They mumble their government’s hands are tied by a judiciary that is prepared to show the party no leniency, let alone be a ready partner.
The jiyalas are unable to say this aloud since their desire for scoring political points clashes directly with their leaders’ wish to perpetuate their rule.
The point to ponder is whether this defiance is going to benefit the PPP as in the past. That is where there is disagreement between those who have been watching the party closely all these years.
The final judgment will have to wait till the time the party is free from the demands of being in power and able to claim victimhood without today’s inhibitions.
The PPP will be hard-pressed to defend its work during a full term in office — what it has been denied in the past and allowed this time round. Equally importantly, the question being asked is: what guarantees do the people have that it will be allowed a freer rein during its next promised term?
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.