THE opposition’s multiparty conference scheduled to take place in Islamabad today is a significant event by all standards. The speech by former prime minister and PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif is expected to be the star attraction. The opposition parties led by the PML-N, PPP and the JUI-F among others have been struggling in the last two years to forge a united strategy against the PTI government. The competing and often conflicting agendas of these parties and their respective leaderships have hindered the process of unified action in parliament and outside in the streets. When JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman staged a well-attended dharna outside Islamabad late last year, other opposition parties failed to join up with him and finally he had to return empty-handed. Since then, there have been multiple occasions when opposition parties have let each other down, or failed to agree on a common goal, much to the relief of the government. To add to these woes, the opposition has also been unable to develop a potent narrative against the government despite the latter’s unsatisfactory record of governance at the federal and provincial levels.
Today’s MPC provides the opposition an opportunity to set aside its differences, reach an agreement on a line of action and map out a strategy that is practical and implementable. It will also give Nawaz Sharif a platform to spell out for his party, and for the opposition in general, how he wants to take on the government. This is particularly important because Mr Sharif has remained silent for more than two years while his party has vacillated between the determined position of his daughter and the cautious politics of his brother. This has resulted in ambiguity within the rank and file of the party. What Mr Sharif says today may end this confusion and make it clear what the PML-N stands for at this moment in time. It will also be quite apparent whether other opposition parties are willing to go along with whatever position he adopts, especially if it pertains to the role of the establishment.
If the opposition parties announce a joint plan of action today, it would have a significant bearing on the politics of the next three years. It is no secret that the government will gain a majority in the Senate after the elections in March next year. This means the opposition will not be in a position to defeat the government inside parliament. Unless they have a plan that can deliver results within the next six months, chances are the opposition will settle for a strategy that can be sustained for a longer period. This could mean a greater emphasis on action outside parliament. In any case, one can expect the opposition to get more proactive and ratchet up the political temperature after today’s meeting.
Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2020