Coming closer

Published February 6, 2022

THAT the leadership of the PML-N and PPP have agreed to start over and cooperate in their efforts to dislodge the PTI government after months of mutual recriminations and squabbling is a significant development.

The thaw came at a lunch meeting hosted by PML-N’s Shehbaz Sharif, who is leader of opposition in the National Assembly, for the PPP’s Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Asif Zardari. The meet-up that took place on the intervention of PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, is expected to bridge the divide that gave Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government an edge over its opponents both within and outside parliament.

The two parties had drifted apart on the question of collective resignations by opposition members from the assemblies after months of joint anti-government rallies under the PDM banner, leaving the alliance practically ineffective. The weekend meeting has brought both parties closer on the constitutional option of a no-confidence motion against the prime minister, a PPP proposal that had been rejected by the PML-N and other PDM parties in favour of en masse resignations and a ‘long march’ on Islamabad.

Read more: Bilawal sees probability of opposition parties working together

Admittedly, the PML-N was deeply divided on the issue of bringing a no-confidence motion either in Punjab or the centre at the time. But now, Shehbaz Sharif claims there is greater consensus in the party and expects it to decide on the matter soon before taking it to the PDM’s platform.

Whether or not the opposition’s attempt to oust the government bears fruit, the PML-N’s change of heart regarding the use of the constitutional option for an in-house move shows that it is seeing chinks in the government’s defences. It is likely that some national and provincial PTI legislators from Punjab — including the Jehangir Tareen group — who are not happy with the prime minister, have contacted the PML-N for securing its support in the next elections. Also, the government’s relations with the establishment have been strained over the past few months, giving the opposition hope of winning the backing of the powers that be. Additionally, the opposition feels that popular support for the PTI has been drastically eroded over the past year because of the crushing impact of inflation.

Read more: Inflation at its highest in two years

The opposition has its own reasons for trying to push the government out of power before the 2023 polls. Many of its grievances are, in fact, genuine. These include the government’s selective ‘accountability’ process to hound political rivals, the prime minister’s refusal to work with the opposition parties in parliament and to fulfil his obligation to consult the opposition leader on constitutional matters, etc.

Under these circumstances, it is possible that a concerted move for an in-house change could begin once again. While so far previous attempts to undermine the government, most recently seen in the passage of the State Bank bill in the Senate, have failed, the PML-N and PPP are once again closer to giving the PTI sleepless nights.

Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2022

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