The opposition’s Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) alliance is in deep trouble. The PPP’s refusal to submit en bloc resignations is a big setback to the PDM, which had to call off the March 26 long march against the government.
Resigning from the assemblies is not an easy option for the PPP. The party always had the most to lose among its allies in the PDM. After all, it has a stake in the current set-up, including the Sindh government. Now that push has come to shove, the PPP has made its stand crystal clear.
It is now clear that the PDM decided to postpone its anti-government long march owing to serious differences over submitting resignations. Certainly, the rift in the alliance does not make for good optics, and government ministers are having a field day proclaiming the “demise” of the PDM, once again.
Their delight, however, may be short-lived. Alliances, like the PDM, composed of parties with interests broadly falling along the same arc but varying in their particulars, often suffer some discord along the way. Nor are such divergent political unions uncommon in our country. Even the anti-PPP Pakistan National Alliance, aside from several right-wing parties, also included the progressive National Democratic Party. When cracks appear, strategies must be revised to keep an alliance intact.
The PML-N, fighting with its back to the wall, seems to be caught between two extremes and seems to have been greatly demoralised by the latest development. On the one hand is Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who has nothing to lose in the current set-up and, therefore, linked the resignations to the long march in an attempt to pressure the other component parties. On the other hand is Asif Ali Zardari, a shrewd politician, who will only do what serves him or his party’s interests.
Indeed, it is worth asking whether a “go slow” in the PDM campaign promises some advantage to the PPP. In the Senate election in March, Yusuf Raza Gilani won the coveted Islamabad seat, a victory ascribed by the PDM to the establishment’s “neutrality”. However, the elections to the top Senate offices have jolted the PDM out of its complacency. The PPP leadership is also not sure which way the wind will blow if early elections are held.
While the opposition alliance is well within its rights to call for early elections, to do so halfway through the PTI’s tenure can be considered unreasonable, even a non-starter, given that poll rigging allegations are a staple in our country. Compounding the challenge, the establishment for its own reasons is evidently still backing the same horse. Without its support, a change in the political set-up is unlikely. While the PDM may want to reflect on whether it created unrealistic expectations among the public regarding its capacity to bring down the government, the PTI for now has reasons to celebrate.
PML-N leaders appear confident that Shahbaz Sharif will soon get bail. Hamza Shahbaz is already back in the political saddle after spending two years in jail and is busy surveying the current political situation. Maryam Nawaz, without doubt, has galvanized the PML-N base during the last six months and holds the reins of the party firmly. However, the implosion of the PDM — at the expense of the PML-N — may force the party leadership to pursue a different line of action, perhaps even within the larger umbrella of the Nawaz Sharif narrative.
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman finds himself in a tight spot. While the parliamentary game in the past few weeks was the PPP’s forte, the long march was supposed to be the Maulana’s time in the sun. Through the parliamentary game, the PPP got Yusuf Raza Gilani elected as a senator. It got some of what it wanted (the Senate chairman election remains open-ended till it has run its full legal course). The Maulana did not even get crumbs as his candidate for the deputy chairman was pummeled in numbers by the government candidate.
Now that the Maulana’s long march and resignations have been taken away from him, he will require a new trick or two to hang on to a semblance of relevance for the near future. He may have some options if the PML-N surges ahead with its hardline narrative, but if Nawaz Sharif also has second thoughts on his current strategy, the Maulana may find himself the biggest casualty of the PDM implosion.
The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) is happy with all these developments. However, it has merely survived. With the PDM fading into the background for now, the PTI’s internal weaknesses will come into sharp focus. The PDM chapter may be closing, but the political battle is still not over. The PDM may fine-tune its strategies to calm down the PPP and thus enhance its impact. The PDM will appease the PPP by not resigning in Sindh but may increase pressure steadily by resigning stepwise from the PTI-majority assemblies to deprive them of their legitimacy.