THE Pakistan Democratic Movement is collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions. The escalating war of words between its two largest parties, the PML-N and PPP, is rupturing the alliance beyond repair.

On Saturday, PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari taunted his PDM partners again in a press conference. This was perhaps triggered by the decision of the PML-N a day earlier to form a separate bloc of five opposition parties in the Senate, excluding the PPP and ANP. The parliamentary leaders of these parties have also asked PDM chairman Maulana Fazlur Rehman to demand an explanation from the other two parties regarding their conduct in the election of the leader of the opposition in the upper house. The PPP has reacted by saying they too can ‘charge-sheet’ the PML-N for its conduct.

Had the alliance shown greater maturity and political restraint, it would not have had to face this grim situation. It was always evident that the past would continue to haunt prospects of cooperation between the PML-N and PPP. The level of distrust between the two rivals had built up over the decades. It would have been naïve of anyone to expect that this accumulated reservoir of distrust would dissipate with the formation of the PDM. However, many believed that their common desire to see the back of the PTI government would provide the bond that the alliance needed. It worked well for the first few months but by January, when the hard decisions about the long march and resignations from the assemblies cropped up, the alliance began to strain at the seams.

For a while it appeared that the PPP’s strategy of prioritising the parliamentary over the street option was producing results and the other parties were content to follow its lead, but then suddenly everything began to unravel. It was at this juncture that wise leadership could have saved the day.

Had the leaders of the two parties confined their disagreements to closed-door meetings, and attempted to resolve these differences with a flexible approach, perhaps the alliance could have been saved. The aggressive manner in which both Maryam Nawaz and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari tackled these disputes in full glare of the cameras left reduced any chances of a rapprochement. Whether it was inexperience or ill judgement on part of these young leaders, the end result was the veritable rupturing of the alliance.

The Supreme Court decision on the Daska election, which has gone in favour of the PML-N, may be dulled by the impact of the PDM fracture. The PTI now finds itself in a better position to take advantage of the split in the opposition. For this no one is to blame other than the leadership of the two opposition parties. They cut the branch they were sitting on and now they are paying the price for it.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2021

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