Apparently unable to settle on a hard-line strategy to unseat the government, the component parties of the opposition PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement) coalition now seem to be coming together as an electoral alliance for the by-elections. The trend that emerged following the announcement of election schedule for by-election by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) may have implications for the coming Senate elections as well as the wider politics of the country.
By assessing last few months after emerging PDM it seems that alliance is going to struggle against the present system of the country but after few days due to different opinion of allied parties or fear of some parties that they are not able to fight against establishment, alliance started back tracking from original narrative. During the first phase of PDMs drive against the government, the chiefs of PML-N and JUI-F started criticising the army leadership. The strategy apparently caused some uneasiness in the PPP. On the campaign trail for the Gilgit-Baltistan
assembly elections at the time, party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari voiced his reservations on the strategy of naming top military leaders. His message to coalitions partners was loud and clear: The PPP was not prepared to go to that extent against the establishment.
After getting messages by chairmen of major allies, Mian Nawaz Sharif raised some questions on that issue in the alliance meeting but actually he stopped naming the names although he continued shaming the characters who according to him were real culprits behind his ouster from power. According to sources PPP chairman BBZ had reservations over the allies’ decision of quitting the parliament from day one. Before completion of first phase movement, major allied party PPP in its Central Executive Committee (CEC) under the chairmanship of President Asif Ali Zardari (AAZ) and his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (BBZ), differed with the resignation decision of the alliance and proposed to fight against Imran Khan in the parliament and contest by-elections.
On party’s suggestion former Senator Mr Taj Hyder held on important meeting with authorities of Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and demanded early by-elections on vacant seats with in Sindh province to complete the electoral college for the Senate of Pakistan. Immediately after that meeting, the ECP announced a schedule for by-elections to the nine constituencies that had fallen vacant due to the demise of incumbent members. Why did the PPP propose participating in by-elections and advocated in-house change instead of resigning from the parliament? Is in-house change possible without (active or silent) support from the establishment? Has someone in the power corridors given any assurances in this connection to the PPP leadership? Why has the PPP backtracked from the initial policy resolution of the alliance adopted on 20 September 2020 at Lahore? Answers of these question are still unclear.
By-poll on one Sindh Assembly seat PS 52 Umerkot-II was held on 18 January 2021, in which PPP candidate Syed Ameer Ali Shah inflicted a humiliating defeat on Arbab Ghulam Raheem, the leader of Imran Khan allies Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA). He was the Chief Minister of Sindh under dictator Gen Pervez
Musharraf from 2004 to 2007 even though he did not have a majority in the assembly. Observers say Arbab Ghulam Raheem’s defeat is a setback for Imran Khan and the establishment because he is known man of the establishment.
During by-polls in Sindh on PS-52 Umerkot-II, a dangerous trend of violence emerged in which more than eight people were injured in different polling stations. Even more dangerous was Sindh culture minister Syed Sardar Shah hurling threats of violence against the opposition, “if the chairman allows”, at a victory celebration attended by Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zaradari.
By-elections on eight more seats are in the pipeline. Polling for those seats is to be held in February 2021, so it is necessary that authorities take necessary steps to prevent violence.
According to ECP schedule by-elections on three National Assembly seats and five provincial seats are going to be held next month. Three National Assembly seats which become vacant due to demise of members are NA-221 Tharparkar-I, NA -45 Kurram-I and NA- 75 Sialkot-VI.
By-elections for vacant NA seats from Punjab and KP are scheduled for 19 February 2021, and for the NA seat from Sindh for 21 February 2021. NA-221 Tharparker-I from Sindh become vacant due the demise of Pir Noor Muhammad Shah Jelani who belonged to PPP. NA-45 Kurram-I become vacant after the demise of Munir Khan Orkzai who belonged to Muthada Mijlas Amal Pakistan. NA-75 Sialkot has been vacated due to the death of Syed Iftkhar Hussain Shah belonged from PML-N.
By-elections on five provincial seats are also scheduled in the month of February 2021.
The two Sindh Assembly seats – PS-43 Sanghar-III and PS-88 Malir-II – became vacant due to the demise of PPP parliamentarians Jam Madad Ali and Ghulam Murtaza Baloch respectively. Elections on Sindh Assembly seats are scheduled on 16 February 2021. The by-election on one seat of Balochistan, PB-20 Pishin-III is also scheduled on 16 February 2021 which became vacant due to death of Independent candidate Mummamad Fazal Agha.
By-polls on one Punjab Assembly seat PP-51 Gujranawala-I, which became vacant due to demise of Shoukat Manzoor Cheema of PML-N, and one seat of Khyber Pakhtonkha Assembly PK-63 Noshera, which became vacant due to death of PTI parliamentarian Jamshed-ud-Din are scheduled on 19 February 2021.
In the by-elections mostly competition is between the candidates PDM alliance of eleven opposition parties and PTI and its allies. Scrutiny of nomination papers for the by-polls of total eight seats is underway. Once scrutiny and other processes have been completed final names of candidates will be published by the ECP.
According to ECP the is initial and incomplete data of sixteen candidates who are contesting on one National Assembly seat in the Sindh (NA-221 Tharparkar-I) – although the real competition will be between PPP PTI/GDA candidate.
According to sources PTI candidate Nizam Din Rahmoon, a local common man, is under immense pressure and has been offered money from ruling party for withdrawal from the contest.
On the National Assembly seat from Punjab NA-75 Sialkot-IV sixteen candidates are fighting but real fight will take place between candidates of PDM allies PML-N and PTI. Same situation is on by-poll of NA-45-Kurram-I, where the real fight is between government and PDM candidate.
On PP-51 Gujranawal-I, twenty-one candidates are competing but the real competition will take place between the ruling party PTI and opposition party PML-N. Competition on two Sindh Assembly seats PS-43-Sanghar-III and PS-88 Malir-II is between PPP and PTI/allies Candidates. Both parties nominated candidates on above mentioned seats.
No different is the situation of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly seat KP-63 Nowshera-III and Baluchistan Assembly seat PB-20 Pishin-III.
The PDM is still in fight with PM Imran Khan’s government and with establishment, but now it is taking shape of electoral alliance. After the alliance decision to take part in by-election recently during election board meeting chaired by vice president Maryam Nawaz, PML-N decided it will not contest elections in Sindh against allied party PPP. After that decision party is hoping that PPP will respond reciprocally. In light of that few days back PDMs two major parties PML-N and PPP entered election alliance in Sindh.
A PPP delegation led by Sindh president Nisar Khuhrro met with PML-N Sindh President Shah Muhammad Shah and other party leaders, in which they decided that parties will not contest each other in the by-election. PML-N Sindh president Shah Muhmmad Shah confirmed new development with TTI on contact.
Similar arrangements are emerging between PDM parties in the KPK where PML-N provincial president Ameer Muqam Khan and central information secretary of PPP’s newly appointed central information secretary Faisal Kareem Kundi announced support for each other in by-election in a joint press conference.
Other reports say PDM allies have reached an arrangement to rally behind the alliance party that won that particular constituency in the 2018 general election. These developments clearly indicate PDM is morphing into an electoral alliance.
In short, all seems set for a two-way contest between PDM on the one hand and PTI and its allies on the other in the by-elections. If the PDM parties are indeed able to stick together, there is a good chance they can outperform PTI and shock the establishment. And how the by-elections turn out will have repercussions for the Senate election as well as the next general election.