NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 1

Relative political stability and opposition’s dilemma

The political situation in the country is undergoing a phase of relative stability after the presentation of the third financial budget by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government in June. It was widely feared that the PTI government of Prime Minister Imran Khan would not be able to pass its third financial year budget in the parliament but the government managed it with relative ease from both the National Assembly and Senate. The current relative stability phase in Pakistan is due to several factors, which are important to dilate upon to understand the future of the government and also of the country. However, it is largely due to deep division and vested-interest-driven stances of the opposition parties.

The foremost reason for the current political stability in Pakistan is that the government has been able to pass its third budget for the financial year 2021-22 and it is now safe at least for a year. While the opposition parties, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), Awami National Party (ANP) and others, have been threatening to bring a no-confidence motion against PM Imran Khan, but they could not do so. It is despite the fact that the PTI-led coalition government has a razor-thin majority in the National Assembly and any concerted effort by the opposition parties could have an outside chance to bring down the government. However, why the opposition has not been able to do so is again a very important question to be asked and it needs to be analyzed.

The foremost reason for the opposition’s failure to give a hard time to the present PTI government is both inter-parties distrust and intra party power struggle. Insofar as inter-parties distrust among the opposition groups is concerned, the largest of the opposition parties, the PML-N, along with the JUI-F, is making an all-out effort to bring down the PTI government. The fundamental cause is that both parties though have a presence in the National Assembly and provincial assemblies and in case of the PML-N, its presence is sizable, yet they do not have any share in the national or provincial government. For the reason, it is in the interest of both PML-N and JUI-F to bring down the government to pave the way for new elections.

The PML-N and the JUI-F think that they have a large public following and as the people are also extremely fed up with the present government’s policies due to an uncontrollable price hike in the country, they would have bright chances to win elections and form governments in the Centre and provinces. The PML-N and the JUI-F are quite realistic in their assessment. However, the other important opposition parties, the PPP and the ANP, are not in agreement with the assessment of the PML-N and the JUI-FP. It is not any ideological or strategic plan in the minds of the parties but a pure lust for power for their disagreement with the PML-N and the PPP. Pakistani politics arguably has never been driven by any ideology, principle, public or social interest but pure self- and party vested interest.

The PPP has its government in Sindh and it is not ready to compromise on its interest. Importantly, the ANP, which claims to be an ideological party and takes pride in standing for principles in historical context, has no justification for it. The party leadership allegedly used to receive funds from the erstwhile Soviet Union during the Cold War era but when the financial support disappeared at the fag-end of the Soviet Union in 1989, the ANP came out of the then PPP government of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and joined an ideologically antipodal PML-N, because the latter had the support of the establishment. So the ANP believed the PML-N could be a better partner to serve the interest of its leadership. Right now the ANP, largely unknown, has two ministers in the Balochistan government, led by the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), a PTI’s ally. So somehow the ANP is part of the present power structure. Now both PPP and ANP do not want to give up the perks and privileges of power which in the case of the PPP span an entire provincial government. The PPP and the ANP are also reluctant to join the PML-N and the JUI-F whole-heartedly to bring down the PTI-led coalition government, because they know their respective electoral strength. In case of the PPP, it only has its strength in rural Sindh, wherefrom it has been winning most of its parliamentary seats and on the basis of which it has been forming the government in the province. In Punjab, having the largest number (139 out of 272) National Assembly seats, in the last several elections the party has been able to win just a couple of seats. In another important province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which is not far behind in the number of seats of the National Assembly from Sindh, the PPP has faced a similar political fate in the last two national elections. So unless the PPP is able to cultivate a real constituency in Punjab and KP, which under the Sindh-centric current party leadership would not be able to form a government on the national level. Even the last time when the PPP had formed the government in the country in 2008, it had bagged sympathy votes because of the assassination of the party head and prime ministerial candidate, Benazir Bhutto, in a suicide attack during an electoral rally on December 27, 2007. In 2008, the PPP had formed the government with a lot of difficulty along with the ANP as a coalition partner. The party’s situation is well known to its leadership and it would not like to relinquish the Sindh government by resigning or asking for fresh elections in the country.

The ANP also knows that it does not have any significant political constituency left in KP, once its political bastion, due to challenges from the PTI of Imran Khan. The ANP leadership is itself to blame for its sorry state in the province as the leadership strategy regarding the party and large-scale corruption during its rule in KP (2008-2013) created an impression among its followers and the general public that the party was not there to serve people but to fill the personal coffers of its leaders. So, the ANP and the PPP are not as enthusiastic as are the PML-N and the JUI-F about new elections. However, for the ANP there is also no silver lining as the performance of the second PTI government in KP is quite good.

Besides the inter-party disagreements among the opposition parties, there is important intra-party schism and chasms due to which they have not been able to give a hard time to the PTI government and create cracks in the coalition despite a razor-thin majority. The PML-N also faces serious rifts as the party founder and self-exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, who is vice president of the party, have taken a tough line against national institutions, while the party president and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Shehbaz Sharif, has constantly been talking of dialogue with national institutions. There are two clear narratives within the PML-N which are almost irreconcilable apparently. In the situation, there is relative stability in the country. However, it does not mean that it is akin to general or sustainable political stability. The role of the opposition in any political set-up is crucial but it is itself facing disagreements and chaos.