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August 9, 2018

Alleged rigging: Opposition starts agitation with nonviolent show


August 9, 2018

ISLAMABAD: All the opposition parties gathered under the umbrella of the Pakistan Alliance for Free & Fair Elections (PAFFE) in the wake of controversial July 25 parliamentary polls showed unity and harmony in their first powerful but controlled and peaceful protest demonstration.

It was a good beginning in the sense that the opposition highlighted its demand and agitation over the alleged rigging, and kept their show nonviolent at the same time. It did not cause disruption of normal life, which is generally done so that the protest is duly registered.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) faced the brunt of attack from the opposition leaders for messing up the electoral exercise specifically the vote count and timely release of results, which discoloured the entire process.

The besieged ECP found none from the political arena to protect and defend. Even the future ruling party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), is skeptical of its role and criticised it.

In view of the reversal of roles, the PTI leaders adopted a conciliatory tone, which they have to be before assuming power, and instead of haranguing their rivals as before stated that the opposition has the legal right to protest. They also asserted that it was not the PTI, which held the elections, and therefore, it can’t be blamed for the mess.

The negative side of the opposition parties’ maiden major protest was that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shahbaz Sharif and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) supreme leaders Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal did not attend it. However, their parties have the due representation in the demonstration. Its weight and worth would have certainly gone up had they been in attendance.

Among the opposition parties, the PPP is not expected to be involved in the street agitation for having a significant stake in the incoming setup, spawned by the July 25 elections, in the shape of the Sindh government. For this reason, it is unlikely to ever let the protest go out of control at any point of time. As far as Shahbaz Sharif is concerned, he, by temperament, has never been a street agitator.

However, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) headed by Maulana Fazlur Rehman is and will be in the lead role in taking to the streets because he feels much more strongly than any other opposition leader and party that the elections were stolen as per a plan. The JUI-F indeed is a very formidable religious force for having many religious seminaries in its control across Pakistan.

Equally vibrant was the Awami National Party (ANP), whose workers dominated the show. It enjoys the aggressive street power. The National Party of Hasil Bizenjo and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) of Mehmood Achakzai are in a position to make noteworthy contributions to any protest held in Balochistan for having followings there.

While Shahbaz Sharif did not turn up, citing bad weather stopping him to fly to Islamabad from Lahore, Fazlur Rehman declared that he wants to give a message to incarcerated Nawaz Sharif that the opposition would not let his absence feel. “We will hold huge demonstrations in front of all the provincial headquarters of the ECP,” he stated and dubbed Imran Khan’s electoral mandate fake and fabricated.

In the days to come, the PAFFE will not sit silently and continue different modes of protests. Its agitation in Parliament is likely to be more powerful on the basis of its huge numerical power.

However, it will continue to face a major test for maintaining unity in its ranks so that it remains a force to be reckoned with. If it was able to be united, it will persistently pose an ominous threat to the upcoming government. It will be important to see how it performs in the crucial elections of the prime minister, speaker and deputy speaker.

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