THE Pakistan Democratic Movement opposition alliance wants to groan back into life. After remaining dormant for nearly 10 weeks, its leadership met for a consultative session and decided to restart its activities in earnest. The alliance plans to hold a jalsa in Karachi in the coming days in order to build up momentum. PDM leaders Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Shehbaz Sharif also rejected the PTI government’s offer on electoral reforms including the use of electronic voting machines. The meeting was also attended via video link by PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz. As expected, government spokespersons ridiculed the PDM meeting and brushed it aside as a non-event.

When the alliance was formed in September last year, it represented a clear and present danger to the government. Cemented with the joint political weight of the PML-N, PPP, JUI-F and various other smaller parties, the PDM threatened a mass mobilisation of people at a time of increasing economic difficulties for citizens. It got off to a solid start with a successful jalsa in Gujranwala. However, Nawaz Sharif’s frontal assault on the establishment by naming names began to create differences with the PPP that preferred a more generalised line of criticism. The PDM ultimately splintered without achieving any targets it had set for itself. The promised ‘long march’ to Islamabad and the threat of resignations from the assemblies faded away without a trace.

Read: Can the PDM survive?

Since then, the opposition has not been able to pose any significant challenge to the government which is completing its three years in power next week. The PDM may have therefore decided to find fresh relevance for itself but without a clear objective and an intended outcome, it may appear to be ‘full of sound and fury signifying nothing’. It is now fairly clear that the government is well on its way to completing its five-year term without having to face any credible existential threat. The PDM can therefore amplify its criticism of the government through its platform, and perhaps attempt to create a fresh narrative to counter the government’s increasing confidence, but it does not have any tools by which to weaken the government. The only available option is the one that the PPP leadership has often been mentioning about bringing about an in-house change in Punjab. However, the PML-N is not interested in this option and therefore it is unlikely that the PDM will pursue it with any level of seriousness.

The duality of narrative within the PML-N is also weighing down on the effectiveness of the opposition alliance. Unless the PML-N can clear this confusion and speak with one voice, the PDM will also remain unsure of what it really wants. The alliance may appear re-energised, but it has little to offer by way of an alternative to the PTI government.

Published in Dawn, August 13th, 2021

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