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November 29, 2020

Towards a showdown

Editorial

 
November 29, 2020

The government and the opposition in the form of the PDM, the alliance of 11 opposition parties, which has said it intends to bring down the government, are set for what seems to be a showdown. In fact, the showdown seems to have already begun, what with arrests and protests in Multan. The government has said it will not allow the latest PDM rally scheduled for November 30 in Multan to go ahead because of the rising cases of coronavirus in the country. Over 3000 cases were recorded on Thursday, and the number appears to be going steadily upwards with at least three senior members of the PPP, including Bilawal Bhutto Zardari himself, affected by the virus. Despite the rising cases, and what seems to be a general disregard for the potential fatal implications of contracting the virus, the opposition insists the government's concern is simply a ploy to stop anti-government rallies from proceeding.

The signs of trouble in Multan, point to an intense face-off. On Saturday, the government warned – in the face of open protests and processions by the opposition in Multan – that it would take action against those violating the law. Two days ago, Musa Raza Gilani, the son of former prime minister Yousuf Gilani was arrested in Multan for staging a small procession in preparation for the PDM rally in the city. He was released on bail, but there are apprehensions that he and other leaders could be arrested once more. There are also fears that Maryam Nawaz, who is to lead the PDM rally in Multan, could be among them. The arrest of Maryam – who has emerged as a leader right at the forefront of the PDM movement, and possibly the strongest orator amongst the leadership – would be a huge setback to the movement and to the rally. It is not clear if the rally can be led by anyone other than her. But apart from this issue, the question also is whether a series of arrests, or attempts by police to break up the rally in Multan, would lead to greater instability and unrest in the country. There have been previous predictions that this unrest will not arise until the long march planned by the PDM to Islamabad begins. But analysts now say that there could be problems before this date. All things said and done, and keeping in mind the opposition's reservations regarding the government's intentions, there is no doubt that the government does raise a point of validity in stating that the opposition should consider postponing its planned rallies. The Covid-19 climate is becoming dangerous and there are no signs of it abating during the winter. This is of course exacerbated by the failure to follow SOPs when crowds gather.

The PDM has a right to rally, yes, but it also has a duty to protect the people it says it is rallying for. Perhaps, it would be sensible on their part to simply delay the opposition campaign for a month or so to determine what is happening as far as the coronavirus outbreak is concerned. This should do the movement no harm and yet take away from the government the argument that it is stopping the rallies on the basis of avoiding a spread of the disease that has ravaged the world. Given that the PPP's Bilawal Bhutto as well as people in the PML-N camp have tested positive for the virus, the opposition's argument looks rather frail when it says it will ensure SOPs at the rallies. We know that is not possible. The PDM needs to meet and consider the situation with some care. A showdown with the government may bring it some benefit, but it could add to the already bad Covid-19 situation in the country.