THE opposition has decided to keep opposing the government — just as it was in the first phase. The jalsas will not stop, here, there and everywhere, to keep politics simmering, and no more for the moment. The other decisions — which may indicate a boiling point — are yet to be specified or a date pinned, be it the resignations or the long march. And, in the meantime, the political process and parliament are not to be abandoned, be it in the shape of by-elections or the Senate. Despite assertions about the decision not having been made, no one really believes it has not been made.
Despite the hype by the PDM itself about resignations coming soon, its recent brainstorming, which ended without any major announcement, surprised few. And not just because of the PPP.
Indeed, the PPP may have the most to lose (its government in Sindh), but even without a government to squander, it is not easy for a political party to resign en masse from their assembly seats, provincial and national. No one who has put in the energy and the expense of winning a seat wants to vacate it halfway through — perhaps even before some of them have paid off the debts incurred for the campaign. What will make them more reluctant is the opposition’s complete lack of clarity on what is to follow — if the government calls a by-election, will the PDM participate or not? And then imagine the plight of those who fear returning to ask the same people for their vote within months of having resigned.
But these are all hypothetical situations. What is perhaps a more considerable factor is the ever-present fear that an election (which may follow a resignation) will allow a newcomer to fill the constituency and become a permanent presence; just ask Javed Hashmi how he feels about Amir Dogar. When Hashmi, in his moment of glory, resigned from the PTI and the National Assembly in 2014, Amir Dogar faced him with the help of PTI. A year earlier, Dogar had lost to Hashmi in the 2013 general election, but in 2014 he won, and then again in 2018. It’s a moment straight out of Luck by Chance, for those who follow Bollywood.
The PDM’s recent brainstorming, which ended without any major announcement, surprised few.
And the PML-N knows this, whatever it may say in public. If it forced the issue, it would have risked losing or being abandoned by some of its members, as was Imran Khan when he forced his party people to hand in their resignations back in 2014.
Hence, it’s safe to say the PML-N is fortunate it has the PPP to ‘blame’ for delaying a bad decision. The party can avoid being accused of a U-turn by saying it sacrificed its plans for the unity of the PDM and let the PPP take the flak.
The Noon needs the PPP, for this and more. The PML-N’s campaign for vote ko izzat do, or free and fair elections — call it what you will — has a slight flaw. If elections are to be rid of ‘manipulation’ as the party sees it (ie the interference of the selectors), the only tabdeeli possible will be in Punjab (and Karachi, but no one there is complaining as such). Be it Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Sindh, the governments will not change, or Balochistan for that matter. But the PPP’s inclusion (more than the JUI-F’s) gives the PDM a national character and makes it a more broad-based movement than just a battle for the control of Punjab. The PML-N needs the PPP, regardless of its level of trust for the latter.
This is not to say the PPP doesn’t need the PDM or the PML-N any less.
Staying in the PDM allows the PPP to claim a national level relevance it lacks otherwise. As well as allowing it to avoid being tarnished by the ‘establishment’s’ brush. After the role it played in the Senate elections, as well as the massive victory it secured in Sindh (bigger than what it got months after Benazir Bhutto was assassinated), it is worth asking why the PPP is not viewed as being as close to the establishment as is the PTI. If the corruption cases against the PPP are one reason, its complaints of a rigged election are the other. The PPP is able to play its ‘traditional’ role of being anti-establishment because of the PDM. And, for this, it will stick to the PDM closely; if it can use the opportunity to ease some pressure, accountability wise, all the better.
In addition, the PDM has allowed Bilawal to play a leading role, as it has Maryam Nawaz Sharif. Both of them are now addressing rallies beside the Maulana instead of their fathers — it’s adding to their political heft.
For all this and more, the PDM will continue even though it may not be able to keep making waves if countrywide jalsas are all they have to offer. Monotony is not helpful to their movement. Bhawalpur on Sunday evening is a case in point. Compared to the interest in the Lahore jalsa, the gathering in South Punjab got far less attention, and it wasn’t just because BBZ didn’t make it; some channels didn’t even bother to show Maulana Fazl’s speech. Everyone had guessed rightly that there was little chance of some newsworthy content.
However, none of this is meant to suggest the government has won the battle. Instead, this is the time for the government to seize the moment and deliver some blows of its own to the opposition, not by locking them up or ridiculing them but by reaching out and offering either the entire opposition or a part of it a ‘face-saving’ solution before a turn of events provides new momentum to the PDM. The PTI would do well to remember that, post-2008, there was a time when the restoration of judges seemed next to impossible. But then the winds changed and the PPP was left with no choice. The good times don’t last forever.
The writer is a journalist.
Published in Dawn, January 5th, 2021