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January 15, 2020

Loose opposition alliance faces big challenge to revive its relevance

Top Story

January 15, 2020

By Tariq Butt

ISLAMABAD: Lack of consultations on critical national issues has led to flagging of the loose multiparty opposition alliance for the first time since its formation on the second day of the July 25, 2018 general elections when they had unanimously rejected the electoral results.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which has been the driving force behind the cobbling together of the coalition of the parliamentary opposition forces, turned out to be the mainspring in hurting the grouping as it took lead, surpassing all and sundry, in extending unconditional support to the legislation aimed at granting three-year extension to Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa as the chief of the army staff. It preferred a solo flight and did not bother to consult with any opposition party.

The second major partner of the alliance, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), also took no time to follow suit. After the PML-N’s decision, it promptly felt it has been left with no decision but to back the legislation. It did not lag behind for long although it protested to the PML-N for its hasty determination. It did try to attach some ifs and buts to its vote for the law, but gave up its stand too early. The PPP withdrew its amendments without any big effort by the government and quickly accepted even a meek request by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak. When the two principal components, the PML-N and PPP, took their independent decisions without having the smaller partners on board, the grouping plunged into a crisis and was bound to suffer as far as its strength was concerned. The fate of the “Rahbar Committee” of the opposition headed by Akram Durrani now seems uncertain due to the damage done to the alliance by the PML-N and PPP.

The opposition coalition of heterogeneous political parties has never been a solid, strong outfit but it has been maintaining a semblance of cohesion when it came to giving tough time to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led government in the parliament. The prime reason behind their cooperation has been the fact that they have a common political rival. There were many occasions in the Senate and National Assembly when they joined hands against the regime. Particularly, they have not allowed the government to do legislation of its choice in the opposition-dominated Upper House of Parliament. Previously also, the alliance had received a devastating blow when some of its senators especially those belonging to the PML-N and PPP had defected in the secret voting on the no-confidence resolution against Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani. But it had survived the assault as it had remained intact and relevant and kept cooperating.

Before the voting on the legislation of the services chiefs’ extension bills, the grouping was also confronted with a difficult situation when Jamiat Ulemae Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman had sponsored the Azadi March that culminated in a sit-in in the federal capital. To show solidarity with the agitation, the PML-N and PPP leaders had addressed the protesters more than once although the JUI-F supremo kept voicing reservations over the lack of their full-fledged support. However, the alliance ultimately succeeded in keeping its unity unharmed to a great extent. Even after this episode, the Rahbar Committee continued its periodic sessions. Fazlur Rehman’s main grievance against the PML-N and PPP is that they joined hands with a government that the opposition has always considered and treated as illegitimate. His grudge is that they have accorded legitimacy to the regime.

Because of the vote on the crucial legislation, all the allies of the PML-N, who have been standing with it in its hard times, have distanced themselves from it, severing almost all contacts with it. The JUI-F is too irate and it has publicly vented out its annoyance, blaming the top PML-N leadership for this state of affairs. The National Party of Mir Hasil Bizenjo is displeased and has openly articulated its discomfort. The Pukhtoonkhwa Awami Milli Party of Mahmood Achakzai is also unhappy. All of them stayed away from the lawmaking process. Before the voting, they announced that they would not support it. On the one hand, the PML-N’s decision ignited friction and strife in its rank and file that it is forcefully working to neutralise by doing a lot of explaining, and on the other, it estranged its allies. The allied smaller partners are more disappointed with the PML-N than the PPP. It is a big test of PML-N to restore its trust among these forces. The opposition coalition is faced with a challenge to revive its relevance by instilling unity that existed earlier.

The rupture in the opposition array is certainly gratifying for the PTI, which feels no threat from the grouping, though for the time being. The vote on the key legislation created fissures in the opposition while it buoyed up the regime.

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