The choice of the PDM

April 9, 2023

The Pakistan Democratic Movement mulls various strategies following the Supreme Court verdict and announcement of the election schedule for the Punjab

The choice of  the PDM


he Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), a coalition of political parties that ousted the former prime minister Imran Khan through a successful vote of no confidence in the National Assembly and formed the successor government, faces a serious dilemma following the recent verdict rendered by a three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by the chief justice of Pakistan ordering elections to the provincial assembly of the Punjab on May 14.

Several leaders of the coalition, including Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and several federal ministers, have announced their opposition to the court order. Presiding over a meeting of the party heads, Sharif has called the verdict “a mockery of the constitution and laws” of the country. He has also said the order cannot be implemented.

In an apparent attempt to forestall just such an order, the PDM-dominated National Assembly and the Senate had recently passed legislation to limit the exercise of suo motu powers by the chief justice. So far, the law has not received the president’s assent.

Activists from the rival political camps as well as some lawyers sympathetic to their causes had thronged the Constitution Avenue during the SC proceedings. The verdict is just what the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) had wanted. The party has predictably welcomed it as a victory for the civil rights, constitutionalism and rule of law.

After forming their government, the PDM leaders had claimed to have taken over power to rescue the economy, which they pointed out was in dire straits. However, the former prime minister’s allegations that his government had been removed in a foreign conspiracy appear to have been believed by a sizable segment of the society and his popularity has increased. Understandably, the alliance leaders do not want to contest the elections in such an environment. To make matters more difficult, the economy has gone from bad to worse.

Most analysts believe that the political and economic crises have deepened over the year. Some have suggested that the situation is beyond a single actor’s potential and advocated a negotiated way forward to avert a catastrophe.

“The PDM has taken a hardline position. It appears to be in a confrontationist mode,” noted political analyst Zahid Hussain tells The News on Sunday. “The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has taken a particularly tough position. It remains to be seen whether its major allies, particularly the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the nationalist parties will support it all the way. There may be different views within the PDM.” He says some of its PDM partners might find supporting the PML-N in its rigid position against the court order difficult. “One can see that there are concerns within the coalition. A strategy of street agitation and defiance [of the Supreme Court] can have serious repercussions,” he says.

“If the PDM persists in its ‘rejection’ of the court order, this can intensify the clash of constitutional institutions and deepen the crisis, taking the country closer to a systemic collapse. It can suck the security establishment deep into the political fray. With the political process hitting a roadblock, the battleground has long shifted to the highest court in the land.”

“They are moving towards a dead end. Such reactionary politics and their performance in the government cannot strengthen the alliance. In fact, they have already weakened it,” Hussain says. He adds: “The political crisis and the uncertainty are aggravating. There is a need [for major parties] to sit together but this does not appear likely to happen.”

The choice of  the PDM

The PDM is seeking more space and time to handle the current crisis rather going for elections against Imran Khan whose popularity is seen peaking.

The PDM fears that early polls in the Punjab will determine the results of general elections due in October if the National Assembly completes its term. PDM leaders have pointed out that if this happens, there will be already be an elected government in the Punjab rather than a neutral caretaker setup. The Punjab represents 55 percent of country’s population and whosever has a government in the Punjab can influence the outcome of an election.

For Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), a key player in the PDM, the Punjab is the main electoral arena. The party, which has seen a long losing streak in the by-elections held last year, fears that the PTI can sway its electoral base in early elections.

The PDM government is seeking more political space and time to handle the crisis rather than going for election against Imran Khan whose popularity is seen peaking. However, this government has struggled to handle the economy which has shown no signs of an imminent recovery.

“It looks like the PDM is stuck in the political mess. It has no clear strategy to extricate itself from it. Following the SC order for holding prompt elections in the Punjab, the PDM has indicated it wants a confrontation with the Judiciary. The PDM is seeking more time before it goes to polls. It wants the National Assembly to complete its term. It is hoping to provide some economic relief to the people to be able to launch a reasonable election campaign. Given that the political and economic crises have deepened, this does not look likely,” says Suhail Warraich, the noted political commentator. He says the PML-N is also losing political space in the absence of its supreme leader Nawaz Sharif. “The success of PML-N is linked to the return of Nawaz Sharif which is also not on the cards so far,” he adds. Warraich says the PML-N has a strong political machinery in the Punjab that can help the PDM. “However, for this to happen, the return of the elder Sharif is necessary. The PPP and the PML-N have converging objectives in the Punjab,” he says.

Former prime minister Imran Khan has said the PDM has failed to bring the country out of the economic crisis. Rather, he asserts, the crisis has deepened. He has recently told the media he would have been willing to wait for elections till October had the ruling coalition come up with a credible roadmap for political and economic stability. The ruling coalition, he has said, has no such plan. It is simply running away from the elections it cannot win.

In a recent speech, Prime Minister Sharif said the PDM had taken over through constitutional means. “This coalition government faced a very difficult challenge. We had two choices. The government could follow the path taken by the Imran Khan-led government or exhibit responsibility, maturity and statesmanship… We had to take some bold decisions… We did not shy away from those. The coalition saved the state and sacrificed their political capital,” he said.

Analyst Maleeha Lodhi sees history repeating itself in the country. “Polarisation and a zero-sum attitude have eliminated the middle ground, making it harder if not impossible, to reach a compromise to end the political battles endangering the country’s stability,” she says. “The political brinkmanship can cause the situation to spin out of everyone’s control and drive the country into an implosion.”

The choice of  the PDM

“Pakistan’s economy is in a tailspin,” economist Atif Mian has warned recently. “The last couple of years have witnessed a level of chaos, infighting, and jostling for selfish power grabs that has brought the country to this catastrophe,” he has said in a series of tweets. “We can see this in the increasing stagflationary forces: growth is rapidly falling, and prices are rapidly rising. These are very worrying signs,” he has said.

“Amid the government’s relentless pursuit of the Imran Khan-led opposition, a failure to secure an urgently needed IMF loan has led to just one conclusion. Pakistan risks getting locked in a blind alley with no safe exit in sight for the foreseeable future. Together, increasingly toxic politics and a rudderless economy have spelt the biggest disaster to surround Pakistan in its history,” columnist Farhan Bokhari has said.

The writer is a staff member. He can be reached at and he tweets @waqargillani

The choice of the PDM