Opposition on the lookout

September 30, 2018

PML-N is eyeing the possibility of cooperation with the PPP to form a more effective opposition, but the relationship has been flaky so far

Opposition on the lookout

Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) has got a new boost after the temporary suspension of sentence of its supreme leader Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and his political successor and daughter Maryam Nawaz on September 20.

Shahbaz Sharif, present opposition leader in the National Assembly and also President of the PML-N is seen being more active after the release of his elder brother. Earlier, his performance as opposition leader was considered poor.

"We will prove that we are a vibrant opposition and will oppose any decision which is against the public or based on political victimisation," he said in his latest speech in the assembly.

Nawaz and Maryam are quiet after their release, allowing their opponents to call it a deal. Political analysts assume Nawaz’s release will have a considerable impact on the political landscape. Though it cannot pose any serious threat at the moment, it will give a major moral benefit to the PML-N which wows to appear as vibrant opposition giving a tough time to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). Moreover, Shahbaz has announced that Nawaz is mourning his wife’s death and would not take part in politics for another five to six weeks.

"The arrest of Nawaz Sharif and his daughter before general elections was well-thought-out. Establishment wanted to keep Nawaz and his daughter away from election campaign as a part of pre-poll rigging plan," PML-N senior leader Ahsan Iqbal told The News on Sunday, adding, "They did not want any hurdle in the making of a government of puppets. And now after the elections, they have to release Nawaz because no corruption was proven in NAB against him and his family.

"PML-N will now play a very active role as opposition. That day is not far when we will get back our stolen mandate," he says, indicating serious agitation if the government fails to deliver on its promises in the coming months.

The current relief in the Nawaz Sharif case is set to be challenged by NAB in Supreme Court but many believe the apex court may uphold this temporary suspension of Nawaz and his daughter. On the sidelines, the proceedings of two other cases against Nawaz are also heading towards conclusion.

Scores of PML-N activists and leaders were present in the court premises on September 20. They started chanting pro-Nawaz slogans immediately after the judge announced the freeing of their leader and his daughter. "Our leader is out of jail, now we will tell the PTI how opposition works. We will not let this government work," says Yasir Abbasi, a young PML-N activist from Rawalpindi, chanting slogans outside the court.

"No doubt the release of Nawaz and his daughter has had a good psychological impact on the party. It will help in keeping the party intact. But as far as pressure on the government is concerned, I think there is no opportunity to come on the roads and pose serious threat to the government," says senior journalist and political commentator Arifa Noor. She thinks that this relief to the PML-N leadership is already temporary and also the party will take some time in settling some internal matters of party control before planning any such move. "But the most important thing is whether the government provides opposition parties an opportunity for agitation or a very tough time. Any such opening will only be given to opposition by the ruling party and at the moment there is no sign of it," she views. "The ideal situation for the opposition will be to wait and see," she says.

A meeting of Pakistan Peoples’ Party leader Asif Ali Zardari with Nawaz, to condole the death of Kalsoom Nawaz, has also opened a new window of hope - of having a joint strategy as opposition. The PML-N insiders say a delegation of the PML-N leaders has quietly met a group of PPP big shots after this condolence and discussed the opportunity of extending cooperation. There has even been a suggestion from PML-N for having joint candidates in the coming by-polls in more than 34 national and provincial constituencies, which PPP is likely to reject. Later, Shahbaz Sharif and PPP’s Khurshid Shah met to
devise a joint strategy to press the government over the nomination of chairman Public Accounts Committee.

"We want to have a workable relationship with the PPP. And we hope they will stand with us," Ahsan hopes, adding, "This is not for any personal gain but to get rid of a puppet government."

To appease PPP and other opposition parties, Shahbaz, in his latest speech in the assembly, announced that he would resist any type of targeted or blanket accountability. "This political victimisation of certain individuals will affect democratic institutions in Pakistan," he said.

Till now, efforts for a joint strategy between PPP and PML-N have practically failed as the prior took its own line rather than following PML-N’s agenda in the elections of prime minister and president.

Another opportunity for a PPP-PML-N working relationship is coming in the form of a parliamentary committee to take up the matter of alleged rigging in the general elections. There can be joint strategies to give tough time to the ruling PTI in passing constitutional amendments.

"At the moment, it seems very difficult that PPP and PML-N would go for a joint venture. Zardari’s distrust of Nawaz has not ended yet. Other than conspiracy theories that Zardari is under pressure because of some cases against him, PPP will not leave its individual identity and popular politics bracketing itself with the PMLN, particularly in Punjab where they want to have some better room," Noor adds. "Though morale of the PML-N is high at the moment because of this temporary relief, chances of opposition’s joint venture against the ruling party are bleak unless PTI itself gives such an opportunity," she concludes.

Opposition on the lookout