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EDITORIAL: Political parties in the opposition alliance, Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) have gone their separate ways, which is hardly surprising. On Friday, following a meeting of the alliance, skipped by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP), the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) issued a press release announcing that five members of the alliance, with 27 members in the Senate, had decided to form a new alliance. And that the PDM President JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman is to serve notices to the two abstaining parties seeking explanation, purportedly, for violating the alliance decisions – an indirect reference to the PPP insistence on the appointment of Yousaf Raza Gilani as the leader of the opposition in the upper house. In fact, in a preemptive move, PPP’s Naveed Qamar had issued a statement on Wednesday saying “if the PML-N and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) decide not to recognise the opposition leader in the Senate, then we will also be forced not to accept the opposition leader [PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif] in the National Assembly.”

From his party’s perspective, the PML-N’s argument that under an earlier understanding Gilani was to be elected as Senate chairman and its candidate as the leader of opposition was rendered invalid by the loss of Gilani’s bid for top position. PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari seemed to have a point when he explained that as per an established rule, opposition party having the largest number of members has the right to claim that position. The falling apart, however, started when the PDM linked its proposed ‘long march’ against the government with en masse resignations from the assemblies. It was obvious to any discerning person that the demand amounted to expecting the unexpected. In the unlikely event of fresh elections, the PPP already ruling in Sindh could only return to power in that province while PML-N had a better chance of realising its ambition. The PPP was not going to sacrifice to regain what it already had for the benefit of PML-N or the JUI-F. Besides, legal experts have been warning that in case of resignations the government would be under no compulsion to dissolve the assemblies and seek a fresh mandate; the law did not prevent it from holding by-elections for the vacated seats.

The PDM should not forget that it is not an electoral alliance. Its component parties have their respective agendas to pursue and interests to secure. In fact, for the upcoming NA-249 Karachi by-election PML-N has fielded its candidate against the PPP’s. And as Bilawal reminded the Maulana while talking to journalists in Jacobabad on Friday, JUI-F had opposed the PPP candidate in the 2019 Larkana by-election, and yet the PPP did not hold that against him, and let him preside over the PDM. It is worthwhile also to note that multiparty alliances normally have a one-point agenda the attainment of which is within the realm of possibility. The PDM may have wanted to see the back of Prime Minister Imran Khan, but if the turbulent political history of this country is any guide governments cannot be ousted through protest demonstrations and long marches unless backed by certain quarters. Nonetheless, this alliance surely could keep the government under pressure. The PPP has not shut its door. Bilawal has said his party would soon convene a meeting to iron out differences with the other opposition parties. Only together can they give the government a really hard time.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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