PDM heads meet on 8th to finalise long march plan

Published December 6, 2020
In this file photo, Leader of the Pakistan Democratic Movement Maulana Fazlur Rehman (C) salutes to supporters while Maryam Nawaz Sharif (L) stands during the first public rally in  Gujranwala on October 16. — AFP
In this file photo, Leader of the Pakistan Democratic Movement Maulana Fazlur Rehman (C) salutes to supporters while Maryam Nawaz Sharif (L) stands during the first public rally in Gujranwala on October 16. — AFP

ISLAMABAD: The heads of the constituent parties of the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) are meeting in Islamabad on Dec 8 to review arrangements for the upcoming public meeting in Lahore and to finalise a strategy for the next phase of its anti-government campaign which includes “final and decisive long march” on the capital and the option of submitting en masse resignations from the National Assembly.

Talking to Dawn here on Saturday, a number of PDM leaders said that in the upcoming meeting, the heads of the parties would discuss various proposals for enhancing pressure on the rulers to force them to quit, the strategy for the long march and the option of turning it into an indefinite sit-in.

Sources in the PDM told Dawn that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) were in favour of holding an indefinite sit-in in Islamabad after submission of resignations whereas the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had not so far given its consent to the proposal and had sought some time for an in-house consultation before making a final decision.

“Yes, we are planning for an indefinite sit-in,” said PML-N’s secretary general Ahsan Iqbal, when contacted.

Moving a no-confidence motion against Buzdar also under consideration

He said PML-N wanted to start the proposed long march while carrying their resignations and submit them at the time of the sit-in.

“We should go into long march with resignations. Then there will be no by-elections on such a large scale. Then there will be no option but to go for general elections,” he said.

“The choice is either you have controversial by-elections or non-controversial general elections,” he said, while expressing the hope that it would not be possible to hold by-elections on more than 100 seats of the National Assembly.

Responding to a question, he claimed that PPP was supportive of the idea of converting the long march into an indefinite sit-in. However, he said, a final decision in this regard would be made from the PDM platform and after a thorough consultation at the leadership level.

“In the Dec 8 meeting, we will discuss the post-Dec 13 strategy,” Mr Iqbal said, adding that they might also finalise the date of the long march. He said they would also devise a plan for carrying out activities between their last public meeting in Lahore on Dec 13 and the planned long march.

“This is not a u-turn. Imran Khan’s sit-in was a conspiracy of the establishment. People were not with Imran Khan (at that time),” said Mr Iqbal when he was asked that the PPP and the PML-N had in the past always opposed the idea of indefinite sit-in and would it not be a u-turn on the part of the two major opposition parties if they decided to do the same.

Moreover, Mr Iqbal said, despite the fact that they had rejected the 2018 general elections, they provided ample time to the PTI government to deliver, but it failed miserably on all fronts.

“All democratic parties which had previously opposed the PTI’s sit-in are now on one page,” he said, claiming that the present opposition alliance had the complete backing of the people of Pakistan.

In response to a question, Mr Iqbal ruled out the option of moving a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan, saying it would not be a wise move considering the fact that previously they had not been able to remove Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani through such a move despite having a majority in the house.

Mr Iqbal said PML-N’s supremo Nawaz Sharif was also expected to address the Dec 8 meeting via video link from London.

On the other hand, it is expected that PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who had gone into isolation after testing positive for Covid-19, will attend the meeting via video link.

A senior PPP leader on the condition of anonymity told Dawn that the PPP might also agree to the proposal of an indefinite sit-in and en masse resignations, but it believed that such steps should be taken after consuming all other “democratic options”.

When asked to explain the “democratic options,” he said a behind the scenes discussion was presently being held within the opposition parties on the option of moving a no-confidence motion against Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar. He said the opposition believed that if they succeeded in changing the set-up in Punjab, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) would not be able to retain the power at the Centre.

When asked about the chances of the success of such a move, he said, they had the reports that there was a group of PTI dissidents in the Punjab Assembly whose members had been waiting for appropriate time to raise their voice against the provincial government due to its “disappointing performance”. Besides this, he said, the role of the PML-Q would also be crucial in such a move.

Sources said the PDM heads in their meeting would also approve the draft of the “Charter of Pakistan” containing the demands of the opposition parties. They said the PDM leaders wanted the public signing of the charter and they might do it at the Lahore’s public meeting.

On Sept 20, the leaders of the 11 major opposition parties during a PPP-hosted multi-party conference (MPC) in Islamabad had announced formation of the PDM and launch of a three-phased anti-government movement under an “action plan” starting with countrywide public meetings, protest demonstrations and rallies before a “decisive long march” towards Islamabad in January 2021.

The opposition leaders had announced that they would use all political and democratic options, including no-confidence motions and en masse resignations from the parliament to seek “the selected prime minister’s resignation and an end to the role of the establishment in politics”.

The MPC had also issued a 26-point declaration containing various demands, including “end of establishment’s interference in politics, new free and fair elections after formulation of election reforms with no role of armed forces and intelligence agencies, release of political prisoners, withdrawal of cases against journalists, implementation of the National Action Plan against terrorism, speeding up of the projects under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and across-the-board accountability under a new accountability law”.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2020

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