Pakistan Reader# 313, 14 March 2022
Abigail Miriam Fernandez
On 8 March, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) conclude the ‘Awami Long March’ against the government after reaching the D-Chowk, in front of Parliament House in Islamabad. The march was led by PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari began from the Mazar-e-Quaid in Karachi on 27 February. During the ten days long march, Bilawal and other PPP leaders declared ‘war’ PM Imran Khan who they claimed was ‘illegally elected.’
The PPP’s long march passed through 49 cities and towns across Pakistan. According to the schedule approved by Bilawal, the march passed cities and small towns of Sindh and Punjab and then made its way up to Islamabad. Few of the places the march passed through included, Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Multan, Lahore, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Rawat and Islamabad. Over the last 10 days, the PPP took on one of the longest marches the country has seen. While the PPP’s march has been directed towards the PTI government, understanding the timing, larger objectives and endgame of the march is pre-eminently more important.
A platform for Bilawal’s launch
The march undeniably became a platform for Bilawal to showcase his political prowess. Although he has been in the political scene since 2012, this was the first time Bilawal took out on his own and led the party through the march. This highlights the fact that Bilawal has and is ready to take on the responsibility of leading the party. Conversely, it also highlights the PPP party’s acceptance and support of Bilawal being their leader. The march thus became a tool to launch Bilawal both to the party as well as to the people. PPP Senator Sherry Rehman in an opinion in The News International said that in 2022, Bilawal had come of age claiming that he is clearly ready.
Building momentum for the next general elections
Given that the PPP has experienced defeat in the recent by-elections in Punjab and the first phase of the local government elections in 17 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the weaknesses of the party was evident. With the part workers demoralised and the PPP losing a substantial per cent of its vote bank, the march was crucial in bringing back energy and confidence, especially in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Additionally, the politicking through the march, the PPP aims to convince some candidates from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and southern Punjab to join the party. Thus, the march has become a means to mobilise and activate the party structure before the general elections.
Despite the march, challenges ahead for the PPP
While the PPP’s march comes to an end, there are several challenges that the party will face.
First, the opposition against the PPP. In recent weeks, there has been major opposition to the PPP government. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan have joined hands along with the Grand Democratic Alliance and the Jamaat-e-Islami have launched protests against the PPP. Although these alliances are fragile and may not be enough to tackle the PPP given its expanse in the province they still pose as a challenge for the PPP.
Second, finding its space outside Sindh. In the last two general elections of 2013 and 2018, the PPP has not been able to establish a strong foothold outside of Sindh due to its poor electoral performance in other provinces. While the PPP may have intentionally focused on Sindh, the party need to expand its reach in other provinces to make a strong comeback.
Third, rebuilding alliances. In recent weeks, the PPP has intensified its contact with other opposition parties. Some of the recent visits include Zardari meeting with Shahbaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shahbaz as well as reaching out to the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) leadership reflect renewed efforts to bridge the gaps and rebuild strategic alliances. However, given the deep-rooted resentment and mistrust between the parties, the PPP is posed with the challenge of gaining the confidence of these opposition parties and government allies.
In conclusion, the PPP’s decision to conduct a long march shows that the party has begun its preparation for the 2023 general elections. Unlike other parties that are mostly focused on ousting PM Khan, the PPP has larger plans. Although the plans and strategies are unclear it is evident that the PPP is ready to engage in heavy politicking, however, how they address the several challenges and succeed in their efforts remains to be seen.
“PPP unveils long march schedule, route,” The News International, 16 February 2022
“PPP long march culminates in D-Chowk,” The Express Tribune, 8 March 2022
Sherry Rehman, “The Awami March: an insider’s view,” The News International, 12 March 2022
Khalid Bhatti, “Seat of power,” The News International, 7 March 2022
“Bilawal leads long march against govt,” The News International, 28 February 2022
Asma Faiz, “The Peculiar Case of the Pakistan Peoples Party as an Opposition Party,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 7 March 2022