As part of its efforts to distance itself from the PDM-led coalition government and counter the return to prominence of the PMLN after the return to Pakistan of Nawaz Sharif, the PPP has expressed willingness to form an electoral alliance with arch-rival PTI. This is widely perceived as an attempt of PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari to revive his party’s fortunes in Punjab, facilitating the formation of a government at the center. His son, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, also appears onboard, taking potshots at the PMLN leadership while muting criticism of the PTI that has defined his politics for the past five years. Meanwhile, the PMLN has announced an “electoral” alliance with the MQM-P, which has made no secret of wanting to oust the PPP from Sindh, particularly Karachi.
For seasoned political observers, this is nothing new. The PPP-PMLN rivalry spans decades and barring a few bursts of cooperation—usually against military dictatorships—forms the bedrock of Pakistani politics. The present situation stems from both parties wishing to avail the benefits of the ongoing crackdown against the PTI following the May 9 riots, with Zardari hoping to piggyback on its popularity to stage a comeback in Punjab, as the PMLN works to revive a vote bank significantly dented by the disastrous policies of Shehbaz Sharif as prime minister.
The ultimate prize is the next federal government, with Punjab playing the traditional role of kingmaker thanks to the more than 50% of general seats it elects to the National Assembly. The PPP believes that a battered PTI would inevitably become a subservient partner in any potential coalition and would, at the least, sufficiently dent the PMLN’s electoral chances to reduce its standing at the center. The besieged PTI, meanwhile, is willing to accept any and all support, describing statements from the PPP of elections being “unacceptable” without it as the “correct” thinking. What remains to be seen is whether the PTI would find it acceptable to become a pawn in the PPP-PMLN rivalry, or whether the PPP is just playing to the gallery to ensure the PMLN doesn’t make any attempts to reduce its standing in its Sindh stronghold.