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February 4, 2016

Opposition’s divergent views benefit govt


February 4, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Unable to offer a formidable political challenge to government of the day which is already half way into its uneasy five year term, Imran Khan led PTI is now waking up to some harsh realities of unpredictable and dodgy politics of the day. Almost a year into its more vocal than practical opposition mode, the party is yet again gearing up to have a go at the PML-N government on February 6 as Khan finds himself in the role of a lone campaigner with no practical support from opposition parties in the offing. He might be able to pull considerable crowd on the announced day. Still, it won’t dent the central government in practical terms.  Country’s prominent opposition parties want him to play a proactive role in the Parliament, Khan prefers more open and unhindered modes of agitation – streets and roads.  

Since its rebirth in 2011, fast forward mode, approach and impulsive decision making has been a hallmark for Imran Khan led PTI. Interestingly, during the past months and years, it paid him dividends to win over urban voters, and youth. In the long run, especially after the recent local bodies debacle in Punjab and Sindh, it is fast loosing political momentum. Political track record shows Imran is a crowd puller and popular leader, but lacks political consistency. 

Owing to some solid support, swelled vote bank in the urban areas of the Punjab and Khyber Pukhtunkhawa (KP) provinces during the past weeks and months, some of his less experienced advisors were operating in a fast forward mode.

They were sure it is basically PML-N vs PTI , and rest are side kicks. This thinking may be true in terms of election campaigns and subsequent results in Punjab and KPK, but such a politically selfish approach fails to deliver when it comes to forging a grand opposition alliance. Such an alliance seems a far cry in the present scenario, and the PML-N is a beneficiary. In-fact, none of the mainstream opposition party is interested in consolidating PTI’s political position and agitational agenda. They believe, and rightly so, it will be the sole beneficiary in the end if the Sharif led dispensation is weakened.  For Imran led PTI the situation at hand is a good prospect for agitation to spark a chain reaction against the government with an outside chance of bringing the PML-N government to its knees. On its part, the tale of 30 months plus governance of the Sharif led dispensation is riddled with self-inflicted woes.  Laid back decisions on critical issues, lack of broad based consultations and decision making at the federal cabinet, and tendency to avoid parliament on important issues has often brought severe criticism which could have been avoided through tactful handling.  But it is benifitting from a divided opposition by default. As of now, PPP is not in a position to score big against the PML-N government due to its governance related failures and corruption tales in the Sindh province. But it won’t let go blunders of the central the government. PPP under former President Asif Zardari is only interested in thwarting PML-N’s privatization plan for PIA and malign some of its big banner projects like Orange Line T rain and metros. Going through worst political standing in three provinces of the country, PPP is in-fact trying to exploit the situation to present itself as a champion of workers’ rights, even though these public sector enterprises touched new lows during the Mr Zardari led PPP era – 2008 till 13—in terms of debts and overstaffing. As of now, for all practical purposes, MQM is polls apart from PTI after frustrating later’s plans to win Karachi in the recent local-bodies polls. Rest of the opposition parties like ANP, and government allies like JUI led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, are in a wait and see mode. While PPP, MQM or for that matter Jamaat-e-Islami -- PTI’s KPK coalition partners, are least interested to take it to the streets for their own reasons. As none of the mainstream opposition party wants early general elections like Imran does, hence, no one is interested in a full throttle agitational campaign. A sportsman in Khan loves to take the things to the open streets and agitate, and not in the confines of Parliament’s chess board where he does not enjoy opposition leader’s status. For now, PTI top brass seems convinced that issues like elections rigging, social media pressure and millions of self-praising tweets would not win them new voters to make it to the victory stand in next elections. Of-late, their focus is finally shifting  -- to have a go at big banner projects of the PML-N government.  Thus the new approach to pounce on every mistake, blunder and folly of Premier Nawaz Sharif led government. For now, issues of public importance have carefully been wrapped around the agitational call for February 6. Still unsure of its success, the PTI supremo, unlike his past track record, is restraining himself from making big claims. A fierce campaigner by modern day Pakistani standards, but close circles and vested interests often exploit the simple man in him. Political foes often take a jibe at him for being easily excitable, for jumping to conclusions, and having little political depth in his discourse. Experiences of pre and post Islamabad Dharna days have perhaps convinced him not to overly rely on ‘hidden scripts’ for not being reliable and implementable at times.  Thus the new approach to pounce on mistakes, blunders and follies of the central government which, on the other hand, has provided enough fodder through wreckless handling of PIA employees in Karachi resulting in unfortunate deaths.  All this at a time when it needed more stability and smooth sailing amidst some positive economic indicators, unwise handling of some affairs is putting unnecessary pressure on the government working. 

The current PIA woes may have some fodder for PTI to exploit politically, there won’t be a considerable support against Orange Line train and other flagship projects in urban areas of the Punjab. There may be hundreds against the projects, including those displaced and torch bearers of securing national heritage, but still a thumping majority of Lahorites tend to envy and enjoy modern civic amenities. Look at the way people use the metro bus in Lahore. Here, the PTI top leadership should do the stock taking before committing themselves to an extended agitational campaign. Claims of party’s local leadership should be examined before hand. Any attempt to misguide and lure in the whole leadership into a hollow campaign many prove futile. And who on earth says people – transporters and public – will throng the streets to get more relief for petroleum products which are already at a reasonably low price.  Orange Line train is yet another issue PTI is trying to exploit in its favour. The other day, a few unruly youth were seen banging a section of the route. Later it turned out to be only for media consumption, nothing concrete. The tiny Punjab Assembly opposition under PTI’s unimpressive Opposition Leader also confines itself to media coverage. Unable to create ripples in the assembly, the opposition often blocks traffic on the Mall Road as they get out of the premises, and earn public ire as a result. 

PTI leader has a mix bag of successes and failures to his credit so far. After the 2013 elections campaign, he demanded to open up four national assembly constituencies for elections fraud investigations. Browbeaten by the Judicial Commission findings, subsequent re-elections resulted  2-1 in PML-N favour, so far. Two re-elections held – one won by speaker Ayaz Sadiq, other clinched by Jahanir Khan Tareen (JKT). Khawaja Asif has been given a clean chit by top court, and Khawaja Saad Rafiq’s constituency’s case still pending in court. 

Look at the novel idea of his non-starter civil disobedience campaign, a few days into PTI and Dr Qadri’s Islamabad sit-ins. Even party stalwarts seemed unconvinced. Khan’s recent outbursts against the Tax Amnesty Scheme. And the list is long.  With government of the day trying to achieve considerable results within the next 26-28 months before the scheduled 2018 elections, he should wait in the wings to pounce on its mistakes and blunders, and present himself  as a fierce but responsible leader .  Reckless handling and impulsive decision making won’t derive him desired political results.

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