Rift in the PDM

Published March 18, 2021

RESIGNING from the assemblies was a ‘nuclear option’ in which the PPP always had the most to lose among its allies in the Pakistan Democratic Movement. After all, it alone of the component parties has a stake in the current set-up, including the Sindh government. Now that push has come to shove, the PPP’s reluctance to take that step has become crystal clear.

The alliance on Tuesday announced the postponement of its March 26 anti-government long march owing to differences over submitting the resignations. Certainly, the rift in the alliance does not make for good optics, and government ministers are having a field day proclaiming the ‘demise’ of the PDM, once again.

Their glee, however, may be premature. Alliances like the PDM, composed of parties with interests broadly falling along the same arc but varying in their particulars, often suffer some discord along the way. Nor are such divergent political unions uncommon in this country. Even the anti-PPP Pakistan National Alliance, aside from several right-wing parties, also included the progressive National Democratic Party. When cracks appear, strategies must be revised to keep an alliance intact.

The PML-N, fighting with its back against the wall under the PTI government, seems to be caught between two extremes and will be the most demoralised by the latest development. On the one hand is Maulana Fazlur Rehman who, for a change, has nothing to lose in the current set-up and has, perhaps unwisely, linked the resignations to the long march in an attempt to pressurise the other component parties. On the other is Asif Ali Zardari.

Regardless of what he may have led the allied parties to believe, the shrewd politician will only do what serves him or his party’s interests. Indeed, it is worth asking whether a ‘go slow’ in the PDM campaign promises some advantage to the PPP. In the Senate election earlier this month, Yousuf Raza Gilani won the coveted Islamabad seat, a victory ascribed by the PDM to the establishment’s ‘neutrality’. However, the elections to the top Senate offices have thrown a wrench in the PDM’s complacency. The PPP leadership may be thinking, who knows which way the wind will be blowing even if early elections are held?

Moreover, while the opposition alliance is well within its rights to call for early elections, to do so halfway through the PTI’s tenure can be considered unreasonable, even a non-starter, given that poll rigging allegations are par for the course in this country. Compounding the challenge, the establishment for its own reasons is evidently still backing the same horse. Without its support, effecting a change in the political set-up is extremely unlikely. While the PDM may want to reflect on whether it created unrealistic expectations among the public regarding its capacity to bring down the government, the PTI for now has reason to celebrate.

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2021

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