NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 9

The opposition’s distant threats

The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) has decided to hold an “inflation march” in March next year after threatening to topple the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan through protest demonstrations and mass resignations in weeks and months. It appears the opposition has lost hopes of any success against the government after it was bulldozed by the government and its allies in the parliament.

The opposition aimed to capitalise on perceived differences between the government and national institutions. The opposition parties also believed coalition parties would no longer support the government in the parliament. However, its hopes dashed and it failed to get any kind of support from any quarter and the government bulldozed it in the last session of the parliament by passing a record number of bills.

Now, it appears the opposition has left the government alone to crumble under its own weight and bad governance. It believes rising prices will eliminate any chance of re-election of Prime Minister Imran Khan in the next election. However, its planning has also exposed its inability to attract people despite record high inflation in the country. It accuses the government of being the most inapt set-up in the history of the country, but its inability to mobilise the public against the government also proves that it is the most inactive and ineffective opposition in Pakistan’s history.

Though the opposition alliance has announced holding a rally in Islamabad, yet its leaders are not sure whether it would turn into a sit-in or remain only a power show. Time and again, the PDM announced holding countrywide protests against the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) but hasn’t yet been able to mobilise people and really trouble the government. Instead, it lost two of its allies – the PPP and the ANP – along the way a year after its formation. On the other hand, the PDM has also decided to take part in upcoming local bodies’ elections. Earlier, it believed the “illegitimate” government had no justification for holding local polls.

Earlier, the steering committee of the PDM recommended holding a long march and mass resignations from assemblies to topple the government. However, the alliance failed to reach a consensus on resignations. Reports say PDM head Maulana Fazlur Rahman wants PML-N legislators to resign from the National Assembly, Senate and Punjab Assembly, a condition which most PML-N MPs oppose. The PPP and the ANP had also quit the alliance over the issue. On the other hand, Maulana Fazl believes the opposition’s movement against the government will not succeed without resignations from the assemblies. It appears that the PML-N will also leave the alliance and Maulana Fazl and his party would be left alone to hold a “long march” against the government.

It is clear that most PML-N MPs will defy even their leadership and would not resign from the assemblies. On the other hand, the government will delay accepting their resignations through different tactics. With less than two years left to complete its term, the government is in a better position to foil the opposition’s plan for early elections. The PML-N, the major opposition party in the alliance, also faces serious rifts. It is visibly divided into two groups, one led by Maryam Nawaz and the other by Shehbaz Sharif.

There is no doubt that the ruling party will miserably lose if elections are held now. People are annoyed at it over high prices and bad governance. The government has devised some plans to provide relief to people. Recently, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced a 40pc targeted subsidy for the poor on the purchase of essential food items. Under an ambitious Rs1.4 trillion Kamyab Pakistan Programme (KKP), the underprivileged segment would get targeted subsidies on wheat, flour, sugar and cooking oil. The government aims an inclusive sustainable growth setup to benefit all segments of society. Loans will be disbursed among 3.7 million households through microfinance banks and non-governmental organisations would facilitate people in their small businesses. For the first time in Pakistan’s history, the government has adopted the “bottom-up approach” to benefit the low-income groups. Farmers will get interest-free loans under the Kamyab Kissan programme. Financing of up to Rs500,000 will be made for businesses. Financing on easy installments will be extended for the construction of houses under the Sasta Ghar scheme, besides linking successful skilled-based scholarship schemes and Sehat Insaf Card with the new programme.

Another round of stipend is being considered for less privileged people under the Ehsaas programme enabling them to get essential food items at comparatively reduced rates. The government also decided to cut general sales tax and customs duty by half and abolish two per cent additional customs duty on edible oil to reduce its price by Rs45-50 per kg. According to Federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar, no immediate relief is expected in rising commodity prices and it could take at least five months for the abnormal hike in prices to head towards normalcy. “We hope people get relief soon, but according to experts the relief may not be visible immediately and actual improvement may be seen from March,” he told a press conference. Critics say the government has announced similar plans in the past but nothing worked and people continued to suffer because of high inflation and bad governance.

The opposition and many analysts believe cordial relations between the government and the establishment have soured and they are no longer on the same page. The opposition claims it would have ousted the government if the establishment had not protected it since its installation in 2018. It is yet to be seen if the situation has changed now.

On the other hand, the PTI government may not have performed to the satisfaction of the people but still there is no replacement for it in the country. The opposition is divided and its leaders are facing serious cases of corruption and money-laundering. The PPP has confined itself to Sindh while the PML-N is popular in Punjab only. The PTI had formed the government in 2018, when the country was facing the worst economic conditions of its history. It is also a fact that the whole world is facing the worst inflation after the onset of the pandemic. The government is also blamed for the plunging value of the Pakistan rupee against the US dollar, while it is a fact that the past governments had artificially kept the exchange rate high.

Undoubtedly, the threat of the opposition alliance has subsided and the ruling party is certain to complete its five-year term. The PTI is strong in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and may form a government in the province for the record third time, but it will have to work really hard to defeat the PML-N in Punjab in the next election. The ruling party’s spirit is still high. However, if elections are held now, it will face a big defeat because people are annoyed at it over high prices and bad governance. However, the ruling party still has enough time to improve its performance and win the general election in 2023.