EDITORIAL: The opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) has suffered an internal rift of huge proportions. After an hours-long meeting of the alliance in Islamabad on March 16, 2021, PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman appeared ashen-faced in a press conference to briefly announce that nine parties of the 10-party PDM had agreed to submit their en masse resignations from the assemblies but the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), in the shape of co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, firmly rejected the proposal, arguing that the fight must be fought within parliament, not on the mountains. The scheduled ‘long march’ to Islamabad on March 26, 2021, Maulana Fazlur Rehman said, stood postponed while the PPP took the resignations issue back to its Central Executive Committee (CEC), which had previously rejected the idea of mass resignations. Not that anyone in the PDM was advocating abandoning parliament to take to the mountains, so Zardari’s statement may be deciphered as just a rhetorical flourish for emphasis. But Zardari did not stop there. He linked the resignations proposal with the return of Nawaz Sharif (and Ishaq Dar) to the country to face the likely music of the incarceration of the opposition leadership. To which Maryam Nawaz replied that his health and possible threat to his life at the hands of the government meant no one had the right to ask for Nawaz Sharif’s return. She rhetorically asked Zardari if he could guarantee Nawaz Sharif’s safety and life were he to return. She said she was here to represent Nawaz Sharif if someone wished to speak to him. In the press conference after the PDM meeting, Maryam Nawaz avoided answering a question regarding the response of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) if the PPP remained adamant in its stance. Apparently, Zardari warned the PDM meeting against making decisions that could lead to a parting of the ways. A visibly disturbed Maulana Fazlur Rehman insisted the ‘long march’ without en masse resignations would be futile. But no one from among the PDM’s ranks has spelt out what the intended plan for the ‘long march’, accompanied by mass resignations, was. Would it be an indefinite dharna (sit-in)? To what end? If the hope was that the ‘long march’ and dharna would sway the establishment to abandon its support for the PTI, where are the indications for such a change of mood or, to put it in the reigning rhetoric, ‘flipping of the page’?
While government ministers as expected pounced on the development to intone the last rites of the PDM, this may be premature. Attempts to bridge the emerging gulf have begun, one being the option offered to the PPP that the opposition could resign en masse from the National Assembly and three provincial assemblies while not doing so from the Sindh Assembly, a compromise that would ‘save’ the PPP’s government in that province. However, everything now hinges on the PPP’s CEC meeting, expected to take place within a week or two. The PDM’s internal rift could have been predicted. The fact is that those keenest for mass resignations include Maulana Fazlur Rehman (from the very beginning), since he stands ‘ousted’ from parliament, and the PML-N, whose resignations from the National and Punjab Assemblies are unlikely to dent its political support in its home province. The PPP, however, remains half-in, half-out of the present dispensation, and seems reluctant to go down the path of what it considers with hindsight its mistake in boycotting the 1985 parliament ‘selected’ by General Ziaul Haq. Their respective strategy and tactics can therefore be traced to these ground realities. The PPP marshals the argument for its position that the PDM has gained ground by struggling within the system, particularly if the by-election and Senate Islamabad seat election are taken into account. Unfortunately, the argument could get bogged down with the refreshing of old wounds inflicted upon each other by old rivals the PPP and PML-N. One report speaks of the PPP going back on the understanding within the PDM that all its Senators would vote for Yousuf Raza Gilani as Chairman in return for the PML-N retaining the position of the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, which the PPP now seems inclined to offer Gilani as a ‘consolation prize’. Even if PDM survives these jolts, a big question mark now looms over its future effectiveness.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021