The PDM appears to be batting on a weak wicket, as it backtracks on its threat of én masse resignations and decides to contest the Senate election
The January 31st deadline slid away silently, and Prime Minister Imran Khan did not resign as demanded by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). There were a few face-saving tweets and statements issued by some opposition stalwarts, warning Imran Khan that his days in power were numbered, but such bombastic statements are a norm in South Asian politics. They are not taken seriously, even by the followers of those leaders who issue them.
So what are the options before the PDM now?
Mobilising the masses and challenging the government on the streets through rallies, protests and public meetings? Unfortunately, the PDM’s first round of street shows, ended in a whimper as, barring the captive crowd of the parties’ supporters, the common man stayed away from them.
The threat of én masse resignations from parliament has also backfired because of sharp differences within the opposition alliance over the issue. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), as expected, was the first one to break rank, leaving both the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) in the lurch. Sacrificing the Sindh Government was too much to ask, and expect, of the PPP leadership, moreso, when there were no guarantees that this adventurism would see a rise in the political fortunes of the party or Zardari and family. Also, the PPP leaders do not face the kind of pressures that PML-N’s first family faces, such as the disqualification of its key leaders from running in the elections or holding public office.
The PPP virtually forced the PML-N to eat its own words and announce its decision to run in the coming Senate elections, which meant that the game of brinkmanship in the name of resignations, was over. The PTI government also called PDM’s bluff, urging its members to fulfil their promise of resigning from the assemblies. At the end of the day, the wily Maulana was left with no choice, but to announce that his party would also contest the Senate elections.
This was a huge morale-booster for the PTI government and a big climbdown for the opposition, which has been calling the parliament and its elected prime minister ‘selected.’ Initially, the PDM leadership tried to play around with words in a desperate bid to explain why the alliance had backtracked from its promised resignations, but the harsh reality is that its entire narrative has gone haywire, amidst reports of growing distrust and sharp differences within its ranks.
The PDM, which vowed to change Pakistan’s political landscape, take on the mighty institution of the army and send Imran Khan packing by January 31, is now struggling to present some semblance of unity in its own ranks. On the one hand, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari wants to bring an in-house change in parliament, for which he does not have the numbers as pointed out even by his allies. On the other, Maryam Nawaz and the Maulana want to see Imran Khan’s ouster by hook or by crook.
Unfortunately, in both cases, the PDM lacks the strength to succeed in its mission. The PDM’s demand that the establishment maintain its neutrality in the political tussle or even force a change of government, will also not work for two reasons: one, the excellent relations between the civil and military leadership; two, the deep-rooted suspicion between the military and the PDM leaders, particularly the Sharif family.
Nawaz Sharif’s gamble of targeting the military and its leadership also proved to be an ill-conceived move, which has further widened the chasm between the two. Those who were advising Nawaz and Maryam that brinkmanship would create space for them, have been proven wrong. Sharif’s anti-military stance has upset not only some of the allies, but many lawmakers within his own party.
As pressure on the Sharifs increased, the PDM changed the target of its attacks from the alleged “selectors” to the allegedly “selected.” But the damage done to the PML-N and the PDM by Sharif’s initial anti-military tirade cannot be undone so easily. Institutions do not have such short memories.
This, however, does not mean that the PDM is on its last leg or dead, as Prime Minister Imran Khan claims. The PDM, as an entity, will continue to remain a bane for the government, albeit a minor one. The government will have to face the ruckus that is expected to be created by the opposition regularly in parliament, and suffer a barrage of allegations and toxic statements. However, this is not a worrisome challenge for Imran Khan. The government has, in its ranks, a horde of specialists, who can pay back the opposition in the same coin, when it comes to mudslinging.
The PDM has committed a mistake by opposing Imran Khan’s call for an open ballot in the Senate elections. The real threat of defections — as was observed during the Senate chairman’s election — lies within the ranks of the opposition. The government, with its large pool of resources, is in a better position to cut deals than the opposition. And if the opposition parties lose more ground than expected in the Senate elections, they will not even be in a position to take a moral stance against “horse-trading,” as they themselves have blocked legislation against it.
After the Senate elections, the government is likely to be in a much better position to bulldoze its desired legislation in parliament. As for the PDM, it will remain intact, but its bite and punch are gone. Its component parties are desperate to oust Imran Khan from power, but they are well aware of their limitations and their lack of capacity to mobilise the masses. However, they will continue to make moves against the government, both collectively and individually, in a bid to at least give it a tough time. But alongside, they are likely to jostle each other in a bid to expand their own space. The real challenge before the PDM now is to keep itself relevant.