• PDM rejects PM’s offer for talks • Steering committee meeting today to finalise schedule for protests, long march • Nawaz suggests converting PDM into election alliance • Countrywide shutterdown, wheel-jam strike on the cards
ISLAMABAD: Hours after Prime Minister Imran Khan declared that he would go for by-elections in the country if the opposition members resigned from the assemblies, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) announced that all the national and provincial lawmakers belonging to its constituent parties will hand over their resignations individually to the heads of their parties by Dec 31.
The decision was announced by PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman during a brief press talk after presiding over a more than four-hour-long summit of the alliance here on Tuesday which was also addressed by Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) supreme leader Nawaz Sharif and former president Asif Zardari of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) through video link from London and Karachi, respectively.
The PDM leadership, however, failed to come up with an agreed plan regarding the use of their most lethal weapon of en masse resignations and its timing and Maulana Fazl simply announced that the steering committee of the PDM would meet in Islamabad on Wednesday (today) “to decide the schedule for further rallies and demonstrations and the date for long march towards Islamabad”.
“By December 31, the opposition lawmakers from national and provincial assemblies will hand over their resignations to their respective party heads,” the PDM president said, without elaborating when these resignations would finally be submitted to the respective speakers.
Lashing out at the prime minister for his remarks during a meeting with senior journalists earlier in the day that he was ready to engage with the opposition but he would not talk on their corruption cases, the Maulana said that “the fake prime minister seemed to be intoxicated while uttering these words”.
“He [the prime minister] is inviting us for a dialogue. In fact, he is now seeking an NRO [a term used in place of striking a deal]. We reject his offer. He is not worthy of a dialogue,” said Maulana Fazl, who is also the head of his own faction of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F).
Flanked by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz, the Maulana didn’t allow the anxious reporters to ask questions and abruptly ended the news conference in less than 10 minutes. At the start of his presser, he, however, said that most of the news reports which were being run by TV channels during their meeting would be “denied”. His apparent reference was to the reports that the PPP was reluctant to agree on the proposal to submit en masse resignations from the assemblies as the party was not willing to sacrifice its government in Sindh.
Replying to a question, the Maulana said when the PDM members would submit their resignations, they would not take them back as did by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) during their protest sit-in in 2014.
Sources in the PDM, however, confirmed that the PPP leaders during the meeting were not very enthusiastic to the proposed move. They said Asif Zardari was not in favour of Nawaz Sharif’s proposal to hand over the resignations to Maulana Fazl for future use and it was on his proposal that finally other parties agreed on the PPP’s suggestion that the resignations should be collected by the party heads.
The sources said the participants discussed a number of proposals for the second phase of their anti-government movement which would start after the Dec 13 public meeting in Lahore.
According to one of the participants of the meeting, the PDM leaders after a thorough discussion rejected the idea of interventions in the provinces, particularly in Punjab, as majority of them termed it a useless effort.
The sources said Nawaz Sharif also rejected the proposal of moving a no-confidence motion against Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and approaching the PML-Q, stating that such a move would once again provide an opportunity to the military establishment to play a political role. They said Mr Sharif told the participants that they should make efforts to mobilise the people of Punjab who for the first time in the country’s history had “anti-establishment feelings”. He was of the view that if the opposition legislators would submit their en masse resignations, the government would “come down crumbling”.
An opposition member, on condition of anonymity, said that during his address Mr Sharif had even proposed the idea of converting the PDM into an election alliance suggesting that after the next general elections, all the PDM constituent parties should form the government at least for the next five years to implement their pro-democracy agenda.
The sources said smaller parties in the PDM welcomed Mr Sharif’s proposal but no further discussion was held on the issue. They said when the participants were discussing the option of resignations, Mr Bhutto-Zardari, who was attending his first political meeting after recovering from Covid-19, also tried to delay the issue by stating that first they wanted to discuss the matter in the party’s Central Executive Committee.
However, it was on the insistence of all the other component parties that Asif Zardari finally suggested that they should hand over their resignations to the party heads at the first place.
The PDM chief said the steering committee in its meeting on Wednesday would also finalise a schedule for holding countrywide protests at the divisional headquarters level. Besides this, he said, the steering committee members would also look into the options of giving nationwide call for a shutterdown and wheel-jam strike, besides finalising the strategy and date for the proposed long march towards Islamabad.
The sources said the PDM leadership had decided that the date for the long march, if finalised by the steering committee, would be announced during the Lahore public meeting. The committee members would also look into the option of converting the long march into an indefinite sit-in.
PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal had said that his party 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 had said.
“The choice is either you have controversial by-elections or non-controversial general elections,” he said, adding that it would not be possible to hold by-elections on more than 100 seats of the National Assembly.
The PDM chief said all the participants were unanimous that despite all odds they would hold the public meeting in Lahore at the already announced venue of Minar-i-Pakistan.
Maulana Fazl said if the government tried to create any hurdle it would face the same fate which it had faced in Multan. He said they had taken all the decisions “unanimously”, adding that the opposition would not disappoint the people of the country. “The Lahore rally will be historic and it will be the final nail [in the coffin] of the government,” he declared.
Besides Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, chief of his own faction of the Balochistan National Party Sardar Akhtar Mengal also participated in the meeting through a video link.
Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2020