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Disjointed opposition role

Updated August 13, 2018

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WITH the PTI slowly unveiling its choices for the senior posts it has to fill in various governments across the country, the combined opposition led by the PML-N and PPP is attempting to put forward consensus candidates in the upcoming election of the prime minister, chief ministers and speakers and deputy speakers of the assemblies.

While the opposition talks are continuing, they appear to centre on the old rules of power politics without much heed to the true parliamentary role of opposition leaders.

Part of the problem may be that while the PPP and PML-N have an incentive to combine their parliamentary strength in opposition to the PTI, the two parties are themselves competitors.

Particularly in Punjab, where a precipitous decline in the PPP’s electoral fortunes now appears to be a long-term trend, it seems that the parties are more concerned with protecting their party positions thanassembling a coordinated and effective opposition.

While political parties and alliances are within their right to choose their candidates for high office, it is rather dispiriting that the PML-N is mostly focused on extending the Sharif dominance of the party while the PPP has deployed familiar faces to lead its side in the talks.

For the PML-N, with its leader and seemingly the heir apparent in jail, the next parliament could have been an opportunity to present a new, diverse face of the party.

Instead, after a lacklustre campaign run by Shahbaz Sharif with a hitherto mostly behind-the-scenes role for his son Hamza, the father-son duo have effectively nominated themselves for the top opposition slots in the National Assembly and the Punjab Assembly.

The PML-N’s unwillingness to consider figures from outside the Sharif family does not bode well for the nurturing of a new leadership.

Meanwhile, the PPP appears unsure of what role to play in the various assemblies, seeking to partner with the PML-N in the centre but reluctant to form a powerful opposition bloc in Punjab.

The PTI’s relative struggle in announcing its cabinets at the centre and in three provinces is rooted in a lack of interest in parliamentary matters and oversight when in opposition.

The unwillingness of all major political parties to take the opposition role in the assemblies seriously plays a part in the overall governance crisis in the country.

When the switch is made from opposition to governing, incoming governments are woefully unprepared for the immediate challenges they must contend with.

Equally damaging, governments are left without firm parliamentary oversight of the executive, allowing misgovernance to continue.

The opposition’s decisions ought to be rooted in a desire to strengthen the overall democratic process.

Published in Dawn, August 13th, 2018