Saturday December 09, 2023

The opposition rises

By Editorial Board
November 12, 2021

Times seem to be improving for the political opposition in Pakistan, which first defeated the PTI government in the passage of private member bills in the National Assembly. Still more significant is the fact that the government had to call off a joint session of parliament it had called to vote on the electoral reforms proposed by the government, which include the use of EVMs, voting for overseas Pakistanis and other measures. This is rather embarrassing for the PTI and Prime Minister Imran Khan – though the ruling party is insisting that there was simply a misunderstanding, and it has not lost support among its allies. However, the political opposition now believes it has an opportunity to hit home, with proposals coming in from Bilawal Bhutto, backed by the PML-N, that another move of no confidence be attempted in the Senate. Could this be the moment then for the government to enter into some kind of dialogue with the opposition? Since assuming power, the PTI government and PM Imran Khan have bluntly refused to do so, with the prime minister refusing to even shake hands with leader of the opposition Shahbaz Sharif.

The PDM has, meanwhile, already begun to come closer together with the PPP and PML-N now on close talking terms again, and both apparently in agreement on future strategy including the possibility of a change within parliament. Maulana Fazlur Rahman has already said street marches are also to be conducted. The PML-N has backed him. There could then be a strategy of dual pressure on the government, coming both from within the House and from the street outside. The opposition suggests that the entire matter for electoral reforms be put before the parliamentary committee, which has been done and that committee be allowed to give a verdict for moving any further on this matter. In such matters of serious nature, there is a need to build a consensus first on these reforms, rather than sidelining the opposition. Interestingly, some of the PTI leaders are still adamant that the government will not back out of its plans even if there is widespread resistance to the proposed laws.

The main issue is the government’s attitude toward legislation and its dealing with the opposition. There is an urgent need for meaningful dialogues as there are serious concerns about the proposed reforms. Democratic norms call for accommodating constructive suggestions and elections must be free and fair in all their aspects. The dynamism of democracy lies in engagement with all stakeholders including the opposition. Both the ECP and the opposition have some sound reservations to the EVMs and internet voting. The government must address these reservations before trying to call the next joint session. Of course, we will need to see how things shape up next. Affairs change quickly in Pakistan's politics. There is also conjecture as to whether the opposition is being supported in its moves to oust the government ahead of the scheduled general election. But the rumours that even PTI members were reluctant to back the electoral reforms bill or attend the joint session called for this are obviously a matter of concern for the PTI and the ascent of the opposition will become possibly the key factor in Pakistan's politics from this point on.