The PTI government is facing a new challenge from the opposition parties. The PPP and PML-N, which have for long been at cross purposes, joined hands last week to form a grand alliance. The opposition parties have also formed a committee to finalise a joint strategy to give a tough time to the ruling coalition inside and outside Parliament.
The decision to form the alliance was announced by Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif, who hosted a meeting of leaders of the opposition parties, including former President Asif Zardari and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto. The meeting was also attended by JUI-F MNAs Maulana Asad Mehmood and Maulana Abdul Wasay and ANP leader Ameer Haider Khan Hoti. Interestingly, a representatives of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), a partner in the ruling coalition, also attended the meeting
It may be recalled here that soon after the general elections, the opposition parties had agreed to contest the elections for the offices of speaker, deputy speaker and prime minister jointly. But the opposition alliance crumbled after the PPP refused to vote for Shahbaz Sharif for the office of prime minister in August last year. The opposition parties made another attempt to forge an alliance at the time of presidential elections, but failed to field a joint candidate against the PTI’s nominee Arif Alvi. The PML-N and other opposition parties supported Maulana Fazlur Rehman, whereas the PPP nominated Aitzaz Ahsan for the top office.
But after the experience of sitting on the opposition benches and facing an endless barrage of corruption cases, the PPP and PML-N have changed tack. The PTI government has been somewhat fortunate during its first six months in power that the opposition parties have spent as much time sniping at each other as focusing their criticism on the ruling party. Post-election attempts by Maulana Fazlur Rahman of the JUI-F to form a grand opposition alliance proved abortive as the PML-N and PPP were never able to come to an understanding. It seems that by its policies, the PTI has alienated the opposition parties so much that they have now agreed to put aside their differences and decided to adopt a joint strategy to confront the government.
The obvious reason why the PPP and PML-N have come together is the accountability process which has ensnared most of their top leaders. But the PTI government’s acts of omission and commission have also given the opposition parties an opportunity to marshal their forces and mount a new attack. A faltering economy, rising inflation, rupee devaluation, power and gas shortages and unguarded remarks against the media are issues that the opposition now plans to exploit and agitate to put the government on the defensive.
Most of the PTI’s pre-election promises have not been translated into action. On top of that, cronyism and corruption – opposition to which was a central plank of the PTI’s platform – have continued unabated as before. To boot, the PTI has a razor-thin majority in the National Assembly, and the combined opposition has the required number of seats to block any legislation in the Senate.
The opposition has taken the stand that the government is using the fight against corruption as a weapon to target its opponents. While Shahbaz Sharif is facing a number of corruption charges, the JIT has submitted a damning report about massive corruption by Asif Zardari and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah. On its part, the PTI has denounced the alliance as just another attempt to pressurize the government to agree to another National Reconciliation Ordinance and grant amnesty to those involved in corruption cases.
It remains to be seen how long the opposition alliance holds together, for it suffers from many inbuilt contradictions. Both the PPP and PML-N have a dismal record of performance in office, and their only concern now is to save their skins. If given a chance, both PPP and PML-N will not shrink from making separate deals with the government for a bailout. In that case, the new alliance will collapse like a house of cards.
But in view of its oft-repeated commitment to eradication of corruption from society it will not be easy for the PTI to allow any kind of relief to the corrupt. Given this scenario, the political temperature is set to rise with the possibility of the opposition parties taking to the streets to bring down the government. With a slender parliamentary majority, the PTI is also vulnerable politically. If the MQM and PML-Q leave the ruling coalition, it will become difficult for the PTI government to survive. In this context, it is relevant to point out here that the BNP-M sent two of its leaders as observers to the formation of the opposition alliance, while Akhtar Mengal announced that his party would not support any wrong step by the PTI government and would stand by the opposition’s just demands. In the days ahead, Imran Khan will have to do some tightrope walking to save his coalition government while carrying on his anti-corruption campaign.