The opposition’s role

Published August 1, 2018

THE tentative emergence of a so-called grand opposition alliance could help re-energise parliamentary politics after neither the governing party nor the opposition paid much heed to parliament in the last term.

The PPP and PML-N numbers in the next National Assembly, along with support from the MMA and the ANP, could create a formidable opposition for the first time in a decade. Between 2008 and 2013, the PML-N was the lead opposition party in the National Assembly.

Read: Opposition parties mull joint strategy to tackle PTI in parliament

But the absence of party boss Nawaz Sharif from the house and the PML-N’s general disinclination to take parliamentary affairs seriously combined to leave the opposition in parliament adrift.

In 2016, the PTI ended its boycott of parliament; even though it was only the second-largest party in the opposition, it could have positioned itself as effectively the lead opposition. But the PTI preferred to pursue its politics largely outside the assembly and there were few spells of robust parliamentary opposition.

The PPP, the PML-N and other parties that have announced their intention to be a part of the opposition in the next parliament have also made a number of serious allegations regarding the fairness and transparency of last week’s polls. Those complaints will have to be addressed in due course in the appropriate forums and should not affect the collective opposition’s preparations for parliamentary politics.

The PTI’s reforms agenda and attempts to stabilise the economy will require a role for parliament and the opposition should be prepared to contribute effectively. It ought to be remembered that the architect of the PML-N’s economic policy, Ishaq Dar, consistently called for a national consensus on economic matters, and now the party has a chance to help support such a consensus in the opposition.

Meanwhile, the PPP’s redistributive economic policies highlighted in its latest manifesto can be lobbied for inside parliament as the PTI tackles reforms.

At a time when the democratic process is seemingly being pulled in opposite directions — the PTI and its allies euphoric and seemingly determined to push through meaningful reforms; the opposition parties denouncing what appear to have been significant distortions to the electoral process — there is a greater need than ever to stabilise politics and democracy.

Now is the time for the opposition to renew its commitment to democratic institutions and to shore up democratic norms. The PPP will have both the party chairman and co-chairman in the National Assembly for the first time. The PPP’s commitment to parliamentary politics has been fairly consistent in the last decade. A third consecutive assembly could see that commitment rejuvenated.

Meanwhile, with the de facto PML-N boss seemingly determined to strengthen democracy, the party’s legislators should demonstrate a hitherto missing resoluteness to improving democratic institutions. A parliamentary democracy demands that parliament itself be the focal point of politics.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2018

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