On Cyril Almeida’s superficial analysis of PPP’s dominance in Sindh

I came across this comment on Cyril Almeida’s recent column Bhutto legacy and lack of alternatives equal PPP dominance (Dawn, 5 April 2012). The comment, written by Morial Shah (publicly available on Twitter), is worth sharing with a larger audience.

In the above cited article, Cyril Almeida writes:

While the woes of incumbency and a non-Bhutto leadership appear to have dimmed enthusiasm for the PPP somewhat, the absence of a viable political alternative has once again left the party with a clear path to victory here….Aware of the potential difficulties at election time and perhaps also of his limitations as a charismatic or popular politician, President Zardari is believed to be using money and patronage to consolidate the PPP’s base and buy off rivals wherever possible…When asked why they vote for the PPP, a labourer who identified himself as Pyaaro said, “Roti, kapra aur makaan.” Pyaaro did not seem too concerned that the PPP had not delivered much of food, clothing or shelter to him or his companions…The Bhutto legacy and President Zardari’s skills in power and patronage politics, then, means that the best aspiring rivals to the PPP can hope for is to look to the future. “The PPP will win next time, there’s no doubt. But if the Bhutto legacy fades and the poor governance record continues, the following election could see some cracks,”Abrar Kazi argued.

Here is Morial’s comment:

Tad superficial, Mr. Almeida. Political parties of all states transitioning to democracy indulge in politics of patronage or family legacy in some form. Pakistani political parties are no exception.

Your sole focus on the PPP stings somewhat, but let’s engage your argument: You insinuate that the PPP, swimming the tide of family legacies and patronage politics in the absence of strong contenders, will win the next election. In doing so, you reduce 44 years of PPP’s electoral successes and evolution to patronage and “dynasty” but I’ll humor you for now.

From your tone, the problem seems to be patronage and Family Legacy (FL) politics (I’d say the former punctures the system. The latter is a symptom of political capitalism. Brands sell across the world- it’s sad but true. The poetic justice? Brands can shoot their own feet). To go back to your argument about the problem with the PPP, your article identifies a widespread Pakistani problem but no solution other than the rise of the anti-status quo savior. Haven’t we already established that the Robespierres and Khomeinis of the world are like the forces they seek to defeat?

The analysis you miss is: Competition and accountability are altering Pakistan’s political culture. As our patronage (or material incentive) politics assumes its peak and political parties find it harder to distribute higher amounts, patronage trends start subsiding. The policy recommendation that follows is that the PPP, like other political parties, should embrace this challenge.

In any probability assessment for Sindh’s political future – barring discontinuity introduced by a military intervention – the very likely possibility of a PPP that has the numbers and time to make things positive, not less negative, should be included. Hoping for contenders, as your article suggests, isn’t the only solution to Sindh’s developmental challenges.

To see the previously mentioned change in rural Sindh, consider joining different political parties as they canvass door-to-door (women’s teams are better because they’re allowed inside homes). Make note of what kind of questions people ask political workers, and how they respond to them. Compare your observations with the past notes/observations of any impartial political observer/analyst/journalist. The change will be self-apparent. Increasingly, people we work with are better able to make the link between the school down the street, the electricity in their homes and their local elected official.

I like reading what you write. I hope you’ll be able to take constructive criticism as a compliment. Thank you for your patience.



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