In the autumn last year, three major political parties along with some minor ones coalesced together to form an alliance. A few other small parties were roped in and the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) was launched.
The PDM leaders gave an impression that they are following the footsteps of past opposition alliances like the MRD — formed in the late 1970s against the dictatorship of President General Zia ul Haq — or the ARD of the late 1990s, which struggled against President General Pervez Musharaf.
However, comparing the PDM with the MRD or the ARD remains a bit ironic as those past alliances were led by stalwarts such as Begum Nusrat Bhutto, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, Meraj Mohammad Khan, Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo and Wali Khan. Benazir Bhutto had also emerged as a charismatic young leader, but with a very mature and sanguine political mind.
Compared to politicians of yesteryears, the PDM leaders appear like pygmies given their amateurish statements, ill-advised policies and lofty commitments, which in their heart of hearts, they also know cannot be kept.
Let us analyse the main flaws of the PDM.
The PDM started off with a narrative that it would launch a real people’s movement, which would take on the establishment and the GHQ for being partners in power with Prim Minister Imran Khan. Nawaz Sharif in his incendiary speeches from London targeted the Army’s top brass, saying that the PTI government was not the prime target. But this line of attack did not gain much public acceptance and in fact created fissures within the opposition camp, including Sharif’s own party.
The issues of the masses are different from that of the opposition leaders. For the proverbial common man, the real pressing and high priority issues include high inflation, unemployment and lawlessness and not the anti-accountability movement, which is close to the hearts of the PDM leaders. People are more concerned and hurt by the PTI government’s inept management and handling of the cash crops of sugar and wheat.
Then during the pandemic, the contradictory messages by the PDM leaders — first criticizing the PTI government for not enforcing a complete lockdown and then organising rallies at the height of the second wave of coronavirus — demonstrated their hypocrisy and lack of commitment with the people.
Similarly, the PDM’s empty threats of tendering resignations from the Parliament and ever-changing deadlines for the government’s departure subjected them to the much-deserved public ridicule. In between the contradictory positions and statements, the PDM’s initial rhetoric of leading a people’s revolution against the establishment was lost.
During these months, there was also a rebellion within the JUI-F, contributing more to the sense of disunity and divisions within the PDM ranks. And as the PDM descended into chaos and confusion, the revelation of the Broadsheet scandal from London, in which the House of Sharifs figure prominently, again brought to the fore Nawaz Sharif and his family’s predicament.
Sharif, already a proclaimed offender, was seen urging his supporters to give sacrifices as he himself comfortably sits in his luxurious London apartments. The public’s memory is not that short to forget that Sharif had escaped to London feigning illness. They also remember his deals with President Musharraf as he flew to Saudi Arabia along with family, leaving his party and followers in a lurch.
On top of this, Sharif’s political heir, Maryam, carried herself like a princess who has a right to rule. She kept trying to give message to her supporters that the days of her family’s political wilderness were almost over and soon Sharif’s would be back in the driving seat. Maybe, this over-confidence was one of the main reasons for the dismal failure of the Lahore public meeting, which she had declared as a ‘now or never’ moment.
All this confusion in the PML-N and JUI-F ranks has given former president Asif Zardari, an opportunity to assert himself in the PDM. As Zardari played his cards shrewdly, he not only managed to soften the PDM’s hardliners, but also forced the PML-N to adopt Yousuf Raza Gilani as their joint candidate from Islamabad for the Senate seat. This is a huge symbolic blow to the PMLN, which had campaigned for Gilani’s ouster when he was in power. Even if Gilani fails to win Senate elections, which he is expected to lose, there is no denying the fact that the PML-N has lost face – at least in front of its die-hard supporters. They remember too well that Nawaz Sharif was in the forefront in getting Gilani unseated as he went to the Supreme Court donning the lawyer’s black coat.
From now onwards, Zardari has the reins of the PDM and is likely to bounce back to the center-stage.
Whither PDM now? The much-hyped March 26 ‘Long March’ and the planned sit-in (if it really takes place) is unlikely to cause a change in Islamabad or put pressure on the powers that be as Ramzan begins in early April, which will slowdown all the political activities. The PPP leadership’s timing for the protest, indeed, is great. From there onwards, the national debate is likely to focus more on the revelations made in the Broadsheet scandal and the final unfolding of the Daily Mail case. Both these cases are likely to have a negative impact on the House of Sharifs and their politics, while the PPP will get an opportunity to get back into the game for the 2023 polls.