NationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 04

Opposition’s options

The opposition has announced a movement against the government in January next year. The long deadline itself speaks about its inability to pose a serious challenge to the government. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech against national institutions will also create serious differences in an 11-party alliance of the opposition parties and may split his own party in a few months.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supreme leader Nawaz Sharif’s address to an All Parties Conference (APC) of the opposition indicates he is following in the footsteps of MQM leader Altaf Hussain. It will make it impossible for his party to continue its political activities in the country. In his video link address from London, he alleged that there was “a state above the state in the country” and that his struggle was not against Prime Minister Imran Khan but against “those who had imposed him upon the nation through a manipulated electoral process.” He also targeted the National Accountability Bureau and the judiciary in his tirade.

The opposition’s newly-formed alliance, Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), demanded resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan and announced the launch of a three-phased movement under an “action plan” starting from the next month with countrywide public meetings, protest demonstrations and rallies in December and a “decisive long march” on Islamabad in January 2021. At the end of the moot, the opposition presented a 26-point declaration in the form of a resolution containing demands, including “end of the establishment’s interference in politics, new free and fair elections after election reforms with no role of the armed forces and intelligence agencies, release of political prisoners, withdrawal of cases against journalists, implementation of the National Action Plan against terrorism, speeding up projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and across-the-board accountability under a new accountability law.”

The opposition’s APC is being seen by many as a vain attempt to put pressure on the government and the establishment to get relief for their leaders, who are facing corruption and money laundering cases. Apparently, the opposition has embarked on the warpath with the government and the establishment after exhausting all resources for relief. Opposition’s key leaders had met with Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence Chief Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed days before the conference. Some PML-N leaders, including former Sindh Governor Muhammad Zubair, also called on Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa twice. It appears that the opposition parties, especially the PML-N, chose the warpath after it believed it could not get relief for its leaders.

There was nothing new in Nawaz Sharif’s address. However, his anti-establishment narrative shows his rising frustration. He and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, have kept quiet for some time in the hope of some relief through backdoor channels. When they realized that it was not coming, they revived their old narrative. However, it will not benefit them or their party. Instead, it will fracture their own party and different groups may emerge in it. Even PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif cannot afford to toe their lines. Other parties too cannot advance his narrative, though his speech may have rejuvenated the fractured opposition groups for the time-being. The opposition has held a number of multiparty conferences in the last two years and nothing concrete came out of them. The latest gathering of over a dozen opposition parties, where they formalised an alliance and adopted a 26-point resolution, is itself a great achievement, though their ability to mount a serious challenge to the government is seriously questionable.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech proves he is not coming to Pakistan and may seek political asylum in the UK. It will demoralize his party and leaders in Pakistan as space for them is squeezing fast. The two main opposition parties, the PPP and the PML-N, could have announced resigning from assemblies, if they had been serious about forcing the government to quit and announce fresh elections.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Imran Khan could have stopped the live coverage of Nawaz Sharif’s address, but he allowed it intentionally to expose the former prime minister. People were surprised to see him in good health. Courts must also have noticed it because he was allowed to leave the country, with the consent of the government, for treatment of his “serious illness.” He is still seeking exemptions from court appearances on health grounds. His rant against the national institutions has further improved the position of Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government.

The opposition has announced holding rallies and resigning from assemblies after January 2012, to pave the way for new elections. Our past experiences show rallies and public meetings will not be enough to oust the government. Questions are also being raised about the ability of the opposition parties to mobilize the public. Even if they hold large public rallies, it will not affect the government, though a law and order situation could be created. Maulana Fazlur Rehman staged an impressive and threatening public rally in Islamabad last year, but he could not force the government to accept his demands. Earlier, Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri had also staged long sit-ins against the Nawaz Sharif government but failed to bring it down.

Resigning from assemblies is a more serious option for the opposition. The PPP and the PML-N can resign en bloc to force the government to announce fresh elections. However, they will not go to the extent because they have serious stakes in the system. The PPP cannot afford it at any cost. Even if they decide to resign, at least 50pc of their legislators will defy it. The government will also use delaying tactics to accept their resignations to gain time. It will use the time to allocate development funds and use them in their constituencies to get desirable results in the next general election. The PPP will never resign from assemblies because it rules the Sindh province. Even if it also resigns from the Sindh Assembly, it will be difficult for it to regain its home province in the next election.