A “grand alliance” of opposition parties has broken down, a few days after its formation with great fanfair and expectations. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) started the fragmentation because it believes its bond with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) will further weaken its position. The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), an opposition alliance of five major religious parties, has also weakened after internal differences and it appears the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government will have smooth sailing for its five-year term.
According to PML-N leaders, the PPP is under great pressure after a money laundering case was registered against its top leadership. Some analysts claim the case was registered at the behest of the establishment to wean the PPP away from the PML-N. Others say it was an independent decision of the PPP to distance itself from the PML-N because it thinks its siding with the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is the major reason behind its elimination in the Punjab in the recent election. It has decided to maintain an independent position in parliament in the hope to regain its lost glory in the province. Some experts claim the PPP is covertly supporting the PTI to eliminate the PML-N, its archrival, after it faced a crushing defeat in the Punjab and at the Centre.
Some say the PTI and PPP have established backdoor channels for cooperation. The PTI government is not in a position to amend laws but the PPP has assured it of its support for legislation for the public welfare. The opposition also enjoys a two-thirds majority in the Senate. It could easily bring its own chairman in the Upper House. Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani was nominated by the PTI and the PPP had supported him. After the general election and formation of a grand opposition alliance, it was feared that Sanjrani could be removed. However, the PPP decided against replacing him, despite a proposal by the PML-N to bring their joint candidate as Senate chairman. The six-party opposition alliance was formed within days after the election and it looked threatening when it demanded a parliamentary commission to look into alleged violation of election rules, pre-poll and poll day rigging, as well as the alleged use of state institutions to help the PTI-led alliance to win the election. The PTI was apprehensive when the opposition announced that it could boycott the parliament and might not take oath as its members. It also decided to field joint candidates for the slots of prime minister, Punjab chief minister, and speaker of the National Assembly. They unanimously agreed that the PML-N would field a candidate for the prime minister’s slot while the PPP would contest the speaker’s post and the MMA would nominate a member for the post of deputy speaker of the National Assembly.
However, the PPP backed out of the agreement and decided against voting for the PML-N candidate for the prime minister’s post, Shahbaz Sharif. It asked the PML-N to replace its candidate because he was unacceptable to the PPP. However, it was too late to field another candidate. The PPP eventually abstained from voting and MMA’s component party, Jamaat-i-Islami, also abstained. According to the PML-N, the name of Shahbaz Sharif as a joint opposition candidate was proposed by the PPP leadership themselves and they insisted that Shahbaz was suited to the job as opposition leader. Differences in the alliance further widened after the PPP decided to nominate senior party leader and legal wizard Aitzaz Ahsan as its candidate for the post of the president of the country. Reacting to media reports that the PPP has decided to field Aitzaz Ahsan in the September 4 presidential election against Dr. Arif Alvi, the nominee of the PTI, the PML-N categorically stated that Aitzaz Ahsan could not be considered a joint opposition candidate because the PPP had not consulted other opposition parties before making the decision.
Cracks also appeared in the PML-N when Pervaiz Elahi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) was elected the Punjab Assembly speaker. He secured 201 votes as a joint candidate of the PTI and the PML-Q, against his rival Iqbal Gujjar of the PML-N, who managed 147 votes. At least 12 MPAs of the PML-N defied the party leadership to vote for Pervaiz Elahi, who bagged 15 votes more than the alliance’s combined strength of 186 in the House, while three independents and one PPP MPA also voted for him. PTI candidate Dost Muhammad Mazari was elected deputy speaker, bagging 187 votes against 159 of PML-N’s Malik Waris Kallu. Interestingly, Mazari got 14 votes less than those secured by Pervaiz Elahi, whereas Waris Kallu bagged 12 more than the party candidate for speaker.
The MMA started imploding days after the election when its president Maulana Fazlur Rehman proposed that legislators-elect should not take oath as protest against alleged rigging. The Jamaat-i-Islami, a major component of the religious alliance, refused to accept it. Even JUI-F’s elected members refused to comply with the idea of their party chief. In fact, many JI leaders and workers congratulated PTI Chairman Imran Khan on his victory. Many workers believe the party should have entered into an alliance with the PTI, like the previous election, instead of joining hands with Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
The current situation is depressing for the religious parties and the PML-N, because they cannot survive in the opposition for long. Workers and leaders of the PML-N are depressed after the party lost its government at the Centre and the Punjab in the recent election. In fact, it was the biggest loser. The PPP managed to save Sindh from serious inroads by the PTI. Even if it had been eliminated in its home province, it would have survived as an opposition party. However, the situation is not ideal for the PML-N. It is a party of power. It fears defections as the time passes. Former Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is not used to opposition. Working as an opposition leader for five years is beyond his capacity. He will find it hard to keep his party intact. If the PTI completes even 10 percent of its agenda, the PML-N will become history.