FeaturedNationalVolume 14 Issue # 12

Opposition’s united front

Two main opposition parties have joined hands against the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The rare unity of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is not only a threat to the government, but may also have serious repercussions for the two parties, which have divergent ideologies and vote banks.

It is a fact that the government forced the opposition parties to unite, with its undue aggressive attitude towards their leaders. They are facing corruption cases in courts, but the government attempted to take credit for it and adopted a belligerent posture towards them in the parliament and outside, which forced them to work together. The opposition claims it has no intention to topple the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government at the Centre and the Punjab. However, it will make an all-out effort to push the government to the wall, which is the only option, it feels, for it to save itself from accountability.

The opposition parties have decided to form a committee to devise a joint strategy on various issues, including a second extension in the tenure of military courts. The decision was taken at a meeting of opposition leaders, hosted by Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif in his chamber at Parliament House. Speaking to reporters after the two-hour-long meeting, Shahbaz said the opposition leaders had decided to form a committee to devise a joint strategy and deal with the government on various issues. The committee, which would have representation from all opposition parties, would hold negotiations with the government on the issue of an extension in the tenure of military courts. “The combined opposition will adopt whatever path is in the national interest,” he added.

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who attended the meeting along with his father, former President Asif Ali Zardari, was more aggressive. He said the opposition’s human and democratic rights were under attack from all sides by the government, but the opposition leaders were “not ready to compromise” on them. When asked whether the opposition parties would come together in the shape of an alliance, he responded: “The union has taken place.” Shahbaz had earlier welcomed Zardari to the meeting with a hug, as the two main opposition parties increasingly appear to join hands to give the PTI-led government a tough time. Earlier, when Asif Zardari entered the National Assembly amidst desk-thumping by the opposition members, Shahbaz received him and shook his hand. Experts say PML-N leaders will also have to defend the corruption of Asif Zardari besides the wrongdoing of the Sharifs in talk shows and the public, which would decrease its popularity in the Punjab. Pictures of Shahbaz Sharif with Asif Zardari will create a negative impact among PML-N voters in the Punjab.

The tension in parliament has increased after opposition forged an alliance. Business in the lower house is frequently disrupted by protests against the government. Both sides are using derogatory words against each other. The opposition also walked out after opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif accused the treasury benches of using foul language against him. The opposition’s behavior prompted Prime Minister Imran Khan to lash out at it. In his Twitter message, he said the repeated walkouts indicated that it was “the only function they (opposition) intend to perform”. He claimed that walkouts were a “pressure tactic” to “seek an NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance) and evade accountability for corruption in NAB (National Accountability Bureau) cases not initiated by PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf)”. In another tweet to justify his government’s action of putting Zardari, Bilawal and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah on the Exit Control List, he asked why lawmakers were “so scared of the Exit Control List (ECL) and why they were so keen to go abroad.” Bilawal promptly reacted to his tweet on Twitter, saying: “Obviously selected PM doesn’t understand the concept of human rights or freedom of movement. Funny it’s only the opposition members on ECL, government members are busy travelling. Including PM who despite promising not to travel for first six months has made more than seven trips so far!” Later, the cabinet decided to remove the names of Bilawal and Murad Shah from the list on an order of the Supreme Court.

The situation outside parliament is no different. Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has played a key role to add to the tension with the PPP. Before his visit to Sindh, he created the impression that the PTI was going to dislodge the PPP government in Sindh. He has not backed down from his demand of the resignation of the Sindh chief minister. “The process to change the Sindh government has already started. The PTI can change the provincial government with the help of its coalition partners. The PPP still has the option of in-house change,” he told the media. In reaction to it, the PPP warned that the PTI government would not be able to complete its five-year term. Addressing a gathering in Badin, he said no one had accepted PM Imran Khan’s election and he would not be able to complete his tenure. “My party will take care of him.”

Experts say the Sharifs have joined hands with the PPP after they were denied a National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO)-like relief. It will still be difficult for the party to satisfy its workers on joining forces with former President Asif Zardari. It will suffer badly in the next election, especially in the Punjab, if it continues its alliance with the PPP. However, the situation could also be difficult for the PTI in future. The opposition’s alliance will target the government’s coalition partners at the Centre and the Punjab. It can also change the Senate chairman. The situation could be more serious in the Punjab, which will be the prime target of the opposition.