FeaturedNationalVolume 14 Issue # 07

The opposition in disarray

Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman had to postpone a multi-party conference after he failed to persuade leaders of mainstream opposition parties to attend it. The opposition, which was threatening to bring a no-confidence motion against the government, has fizzled out after giving more confidence to the government.


Leaders of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had different reasons to skip the conference while Fazlur Rehman wanted to unite the opposition for his personal gains. Like the MQM, he and his party cannot survive in the opposition. He has remained in the government for over 13 consecutive years and he is a fish out of water in the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. According to media reports, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was not ready to launch a full-fledged campaign against the government because he thought new elections would not be held in the near future. It is said Nawaz Sharif informed Fazlur Rehman that he would be ready to take to the streets against the government if there was a guarantee that the ouster of the PTI government would result in holding of general elections. Critics say Nawaz Sharif is also aware of his limits as he knows he has no street power and could be heading to jail in weeks, so he was not interested in the agitation.


PPP leader and former President Asif Ali Zardari refused to attend the conference if Nawaz Sharif declined. It is said PPP leader Syed Khursheed Shah met Nawaz Sharif in the chamber of Leader of Opposition Shahbaz Sharif to convey to him a message from Asif Zardari. It is said the decision of not attending the conference was taken by Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari in unison and they also decided against launching a movement against the government, because they thought a premature movement would damage the image of the opposition parties and benefit the ruling alliance. Sources say the JUI-F leadership wanted to launch a movement against the PTI-led coalition government immediately to take advantage of tough economic decisions being taken by the government. It believed people would side with the opposition’s movement against rising prices.


It is also a fact that the leaders of the two main opposition parties are not in a position to launch a movement. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former President Asif Zardari could be jailed in weeks on corruption charges. Former Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is already in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) custody. According to sources, NAB has found sufficient evidence against him to prove him guilty of corruption in court. It is said when he was asked about his assets beyond known means of income, he informed NAB he had no record of his properties and businesses and his son Salman Shahbaz looked after them. When Salman was summoned, he failed to provide required information and fled the country when NAB summoned him again. NAB says Aashiana housing, 56 public sector companies and Saaf Pani scandals are interlinked and Shahbaz Sharif committed massive corruption in them. His elder son, Hamza Shahbaz, has also not appeared before NAB despite repeated summons. He could be arrested anytime. A prime suspect in two corruption cases has already turned an approver against Shahbaz Sharif’s son-in-law Ali Imran. Ikram Naveed, former chief executive officer of the Punjab Power Development Company (PPDC), who caused a loss of Rs490m to the national exchequer during his service, has confessed to paying over Rs130 million to Ali Imran, who is hiding in London after being declared a proclaimed offender by an accountability court. Naveed was allegedly appointed to the top position by Shahbaz Sharif on Ali Imran’s recommendation.


On the other hand, the PPP government in Sindh is also in trouble. About 30pc legislators of the PPP, including Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, are under investigation by NAB for assets beyond known sources of income. Analysts fear the situation could lead to a change of loyalties and formation of a forward block to change the provincial government. There are 99 members of the PPP in the 168-strong Sindh Assembly. Out of 99 treasury members, around 36 face NAB inquiries. Up to 85 members are required to form the government. The situation for the party will become critical if former President Asif Zardari is arrested in a money laundering case.


There are also rumours in the country that the PPP and PML-N leadership is planning to resign from the assemblies en bloc, in a bid to save themselves from corruption cases. They think it will pave the way for new elections, but analysts say it will create rifts in their parties and most legislators would refuse to obey their orders. In that case, the process of accountability will also accelerate. Prime Minister Imran Khan and his ministers have accused the opposition of attempting to receive National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO)-like relief. They have repeated the allegation many times. It is clear that the government is not in a position to provide relief to the opposition leaders, who are facing corruption charges. Only the establishment can do it. It is said Shahbaz Sharif is trying to get relief for himself from the establishment as he is considered very close to it. Asif Zardari is eagerly waiting for it, so that he could also plead his case through some common friends.


It appears the opposition will not be able to regroup in the near future. Its internal rifts and troubles have boosted the confidence of the government and provided ample space to it to implement its agenda.