Looming showdown

December 20, 2020

Opposition alliance threatens en masse resignations, long march on capital after Lahore jalsa

— Photo by Rahat Dar

The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) has extended its deadline for the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) led government to quit. However, if the government still refuses to resign, the opposition alliance will also announce a date for its long march on February 1.

Most political analysts believe that the PDM is still indecisive and lacks a clear approach against the government. That explains why the ultimatum has been extended. Opposition lawmakers have been asked meanwhile to submit their resignations to party heads instead of speakers of relevant assemblies. The analysts also believe that the coming year will also test the government’s strength.

The public meeting in Lahore, PDM’s sixth, has also intensified the debate whether the alliance still commands the support of the masses in favour of its political agenda or not. Prime Minister Imran Khan himself and a number of federal and provincial ministers have declared the gathering a ‘complete failure’. For its part, the PDM leaders have claimed a huge success.

According to media reports, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was unable to bring a massive crowd from Lahore. Most of the participants came from outside Lahore to attend this jalsa. Geo News Lahore Bureau chief Raees Ansari has said that party coordinators close to the PML-N president Mian Shahbaz Sharif were removed from the jalsa coordinators’ list. Ansari suggests that this may have been a factor behind the lower number of participants from the Walled City, the support base of both Shahbaz Sharif and Hamza Shahbaz.

In a TV interview, PML-N leader Mian Javed Lateef said that four to six people in the party were playing a ‘double-game’. “Maryam Nawaz has agreed to step up accountability in the party. She will hold those lagging behind in their duties responsible,” he said.

Political analyst Suhail Warraich says that the Lahore jalsa and the coming long march should be seen separately. “The public meeting in Lahore has certainly had an impact on local and provincial politics. However, it cannot be called a monumental public meeting,” Warraich says.

“Historically, PML-N voters have avoided coming to large public gatherings. Only party workers attend such meetings – the Lahore jalsa is an example of this trend. Public gatherings should be seen as a means to put pressure on the government. However, resigning from the assemblies and organizing a long march can also cripple the federal government by bringing political, administrative and economic uncertainty in the country,” he argues.

Warraich says that no party has the capacity to fill the Greater Iqbal Park. “Nevertheless, the PML-N will have to work hard to press its voters to participate in the long march the way Mian Nawaz Sharif did in 2009,” he says.

“The public meeting in Lahore has certainly had an impact on local and provincial politics. However, it cannot be called a great public meeting. Historically, PML-N voters have avoided large public gatherings. Only party workers attend such meetings – the Lahore jalsa is an example of the trend,” says analyst Suhail Warraich.

A day after the Lahore jalsa, heads of 10 PDM parties signed the ‘Lahore Declaration’ and gave a clear deadline to the federal government to resign by January 31. The PDM head, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, asked the masses to start preparations for the long march expected in February.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is the sole member of the alliance that is in power at the provincial level. PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto has announced that the party is willing to sacrifice its Sindh government if a joint decision is taken by the PDM to resign from all assemblies.

“The extension in the PDM’s ultimatum to the government shows that the opposition alliance is still not clear on which strategy to use to send the government home,” says political analyst Dr Hassan Askari. “The PDM will not be able to hold a long march in February as it has opened several fronts at the same time. Challenging the security institutions, criticising judiciary and demanding the government’s ouster at the same time will not fetch expected outcomes for the PDM. That’s the reason why, the prospects of government collapsing are still indiscernible,” he states.

“However, opposition parties’ continuous campaign, along with administrative and economic challenges are expected to put pressure on the government during the next year,” he adds.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, his cabinet and the large team of spokespersons, insist that the PDM antics have not put any political pressure on them. After holding a series of unsuccessful public gatherings, opposition parties can also test their strength by attempting a long march, the government says.

“The situation is not like what the government and the PM claim,” political analyst Tahir Malik says. “There are at least five aspects that point to the fact being otherwise. First, the timing of the photo shoot of Imran Khan with his pet dogs and its release at social media platforms. Secondly, buying front and back pages of national newspapers of December 14 edition for full page advertisements. Third, more than 10 press conferences were held by the federal and provincial ministers and spokespersons against the PDM on the very next day. Fourth, announcing the early Senate elections, and fifth, the appointment of Sheikh Rashid Ahmed as interior minister. All these measures show the government’s frustration with the increasing level of political pressure,” he says.

On the question of extending the deadline for the long march, Tahir Malik says that this timeline is not for the government. “In fact, the PDM is signaling to the relevant institution to rethink the policy of supporting the incumbent government and negotiate with them,” he adds. The government is still in a political whirlpool – any incompetent or uncalculated political, economic or administrative move can exacerbate the situation, Malik says.

The author is a staff member. He can be reached at [email protected]

Looming showdown: PDM threatens en masse resignations, long march on capital after Lahore jalsa