THE opposition alliance PDM woke up from its deep slumber and held a well-attended rally in Karachi, its first big event after months. The speeches by the most important leaders, Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz Sharif and Maulana Fazlur Rehman, echoed their traditional positions and did not break any new ground in terms of fresh thinking. Public rallies however have limited value in today’s hyper-connected world. Once seen as a barometer of a party’s popularity, these rallies have now come to demonstrate less national popularity and more the organisational capability of the party. With JUI-F’s cadres forming the backbone of the Karachi jalsa on Sunday, there was little doubt that it would have the numbers that make for good optics. But optics are not the solution to the alliance’s problems.
With the departure of the PPP from its ranks, the PDM is now hobbling along as a PML-N and JUI-F project. To make matters worse, it does not seem to have a well-defined agenda. At its launch in September 2020, the alliance was clear that it aimed to bring down the PTI government. Its plan to do so was also fairly clear. A public mobilisation campaign was to be followed by a long march to Islamabad which would ultimately lead to mass resignations from the assemblies to bring the system crashing down. Once this grand plan collapsed under the weight of disagreements between the PPP and the other two big parties, the movement was as good as done. Now it wants to charge itself up again. But to do what? And how? Some PDM leaders are now saying they are looking to convert their alliance into an electoral one. That may be well and good, but given the parliamentary strength of its member parties, other than PML-N and JUI-F, the idea does not inspire much excitement. With no real options to bring down the PTI government, and not much consensus with the PPP on an in-house change, it appears the opposition has reconciled itself to the fact that the PTI government will have little problem completing its five-year term. The PDM therefore really needs to take thorough stock of where its politics has brought it and what it wants to achieve in the time between now and the next general elections.
If the leaders of the alliance conduct an honest assessment of the situation, they would not have a problem reaching the conclusion that Prime Minister Imran Khan is now in a fairly comfortable position to govern for the next two years without worrying about a threat from the opposition. In fact, he is now consolidating his position for the next polls with a clear agenda that aims at showcasing key projects while remaining on the same page with the establishment. The PDM might want to inject some clarity into its plans.
Published in Dawn, August 31st, 2021