A new Charter of Democracy?

ISLAMABAD: Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif chair joint Opposition Meeting at Parliament house. PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan People's Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Senator Sherry Rehman, ANP leader Ameer Haider Hoti, Asadur Rehman MMA, Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also present. INP

Lahore: On January 15, Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted: “In a Parliament that costs taxpayers billions yearly, yet another walkout in NA by the Opposition shows that this is the only function they intend to perform. These are pressure tactics to seek an NRO & evade accountability for corruption in NAB cases not initiated by PTI.”

PM Khan’s tweet comes a day after the Opposition staged a walkout in the National Assembly when Federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda started to respond to Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif’s criticism of the Mohmand Dam contract.

In response to his tweet, many reminded PM Khan of his absence from parliament in the last few months. Others reminded him of his promise to have a Q&A session on a fortnightly basis in parliament, which has yet to materialise.

This is not the first time that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government and PM Khan have backtracked on their ‘promises’. No wonder, PM Khan feels that one cannot become a great leader unless he/she takes u-turns. Maybe PM Khan has taken a leaf out of one of his favourite leaders, Malaysian PM Mahatir Mohamad who felt his party had made too many promises in its manifesto because “we did not expect to win…we made a thick manifesto with all kinds of promises”. PM Mahatir said the promises were made in expectation of his party being in the Opposition. Did PM Khan also not ‘expect to win’? Probably.

The PTI government is a godsend for the Opposition parties. It seems as if the government is either clueless or incompetent and/or a mix of both. From economy to several other issues, this government has not come up with a sound plan as to how to run this country. As co-Chairman Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Asif Ali Zardari said to the government in the National Assembly: “We will not bring down your [government], you will fall yourselves.”

Now another blow has come to the government: Mian Shahbaz Sharif hosted a lunch for PPP leadership in his chamber at Parliament House. Former President Asif Ali Zardari and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari attended the meeting. In response to a question about an Opposition alliance, Zardari confirmed that a union has indeed taken place. The most interesting thing was that members of BNP-Mengal also attended this meeting. They are unhappy with the government for not fulfilling its promises.

Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto tweeted: “Positive meeting of opposition parties today. PMLN, PPP, ANP, MMA & BNP agree on 3 points: no compromise on economic rights, human rights & democratic rights of people of Pakistan. Committee formed to work out future course of action. Mini-budget, military courts & new COD discussed.”

Bilawal Bhutto also told reporters about revisiting the Charter of Democracy (CoD) by updating it and adding other political parties as its signatories. Both the PPP and PML-N also talked about media censorship under the present government.

We don’t know how long this combined Opposition alliance will last. There is a lot of mistrust between the PML-N and the PPP. Of course they are wary of each other given their history. In 2015, when Zardari took on the military by reminding the then army chief that he is there for only three years in his infamous “eent se eent” statement, then prime minister Nawaz Sharif distanced himself from the PPP leader. Mr Zardari felt betrayed. In 2018, the PPP played a significant role in bringing down the PML-N’s government in Balochistan. The PPP’s role in the Senate elections is no secret either. Post-Panama the PML-N leadership’s anti-establishment narrative wasn’t supported by the PPP either.

Even though both parties rejected the results of the 2018 general elections and leveled rigging allegations against the PTI, the PPP still did not support the PML-N’s prime ministerial and president candidates. Analysts and insiders say it is because of all this baggage that the two parties are unable to completely trust each other. On the one hand, there are rumours of a deal between the PML-N and the powers-that-be for keeping quiet and not destabilising the current setup. Others say that the PML-N is afraid of the PPP backing out of an alliance in light of the money laundering and fake accounts JIT against the PPP leadership in case they strike a deal with the powers-that-be. Both the PML-N and the PPP are thus suspicious of each other.

Despite this, the two parties have gone ahead and forged an alliance. It is only due to the PTI government’s continuous attack on the two parties that they have finally come together. While the two parties agree on most things, the extension of military courts is a thorny issue. The PPP has taken a clear stand that it will not vote for an extension of military courts while the PML-N is divided on the issue for various reasons.

So what exactly will the combined Opposition do? There are rumours that the PPP and PML-N may come together and bring in their own Chairman Senate by dethroning Sanjrani. A few weeks ago, Bilawal Bhutto’s spokesperson Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar had alluded to this decision in a TV talk show. A grand Opposition alliance can also give a tough time to the government at the federal level.

PTI government has turned up the heat in Sindh by threatening the PPP government of a forward bloc and demanding the resignation of Chief Minister Sindh Murad Ali Shah.

We don’t know what the future holds for Pakistan’s political landscape but it will surely be interesting to see. The next two to three months will unfold many a development. This alliance is a great pressure tactic not just for the government but the real power brokers. Whether it will succeed in sending a message or not is something only time will tell.

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