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Seasonable Hibernation or Stupor of Death?

After keeping the nation on tenterhooks for months about a Long March to overthrow the government, the PDM has been put out of action by God knows what.

For all intents and purposes, the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) has ceased to exist. The government side asserts and some political observers agree the six-month-old alliance is on a ventilator and preparations for its last rites are underway as there is no hope for its revival. However, there are others who believe the coalition has gone into hibernation on purpose and it will return when the conditions are right.

Angry over the show-cause notices served on them by Vice-President of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in his capacity as the PDM secretary general, the Awami National Party (ANP) has already announced its decision to part ways with the alliance and its leaders have surrendered the PDM offices, including that of information secretary.

The ANP had been issued the notice for supporting nomination of Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) for the Senate opposition leader’s office in violation of what PML-N maintained was a PDM decision agreed to by all member parties. The PPP and ANP say no such agreement was reached.

The PPP also received the show-cause notice, but instead of showing a knee-jerk reaction, the party took a more cautious approach, referring the matter to its Central Executive Committee. Analysts say the PPP does not want to be blamed for the possible disintegration of the alliance. The PPP claims to be the founder of the PDM since it came into existence during a Multi-Party Conference (MPC) hosted by party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in Islamabad last September.

But ultimately, the PPP’s deliberate response turned out to be much harsher than the ANP’s when, in a highly symbolic move, Chairman Bilawal Bhutto tore up the PDM show cause notice while presiding over the CEC session attended by fifty party stalwarts from across Pakistan.

The PPP has questioned the authority and the procedure adopted for the issuance of the notice, alleging that “the move is not only aimed at damaging the party, but finding an excuse to formally abolish the opposition’s alliance which was a big success against the government during the recent by-polls and the Senate election”.

The PPP says the PDM is not an electoral alliance and it has not come into existence under any specific rules and regulations and it is only a grouping of some parties for a limited and specific objective. It alleges that the PML-N and the Jamiat e Ulama e Islam Fazal-ur-Rehman (JUI-F) were looking to back out of an earlier decision to stage a Long March. They had linked the Long March with the resignations from elected houses because they knew the PPP would never agree to any such measure at this stage.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, however, claims that he has issued the notices after receiving a go-ahead from PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman. According to Mr Abbasi, the Maulana gave him a go-ahead for issuance of the notices when he informed him about the recommendations made by five parliamentary parties of the PDM in the Senate in meeting two days back.

The leaders of these five parties, according to him, were of the opinion that the Maulana should seek an explanation from these two parties as to why they created a division in the Senate and by violating agreed PDM’s principles.

Asked under which rules he has issued the notices to the two parties, Mr Abbasi reportedly said he had done so in accordance with the country’s constitution which bars political parties from collaborating and establishing contact with the establishment.

The PPP has in turn come out with a charge-sheet of its own against the PML-N. It alleges that the PML-N got its senators elected unopposed from Punjab after having an understanding with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and its allied Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) party.

PPP Secretary Information Shazia Marri asked when a show-cause notice would be issued to the JUI-F over its alliance with the PTI in Sindh. She also accused the PML-N of conniving with the establishment for postponing the Long March to get some relief.

The mysterious and sudden disappearance of Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Maryam Nawaz from the political scene at this crucial juncture is conspicuous. It is said that both of them are facing some health issues and have been advised by the doctors to take complete rest. However, there are widespread suspicions the two leaders’ sudden illness is a ruse for their inactivity on account of one or the other political expediency.

Maryam’s silence only days after opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly Hamza Shahbaz was released on bail has strengthened claims that there are differences within the Sharifs over the party’s direction. It seems that after an aggressive six-month inning, pinch hitter Maryam Nawaz has now been recalled to the pavilion as the team management has decided to field someone with a cooler head.

The buzz over the release of PML-N president and opposition leader in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif and the party’s parliamentary leader Khwaja Asif is also in the air. The PPP is also hopeful about the release of its stalwart Khursheed Shah.

The opposition parties have already linked their participation in consultations with the government on proposed electoral, judicial, and constitutional reforms with the release of their detained leaders. The demand was formally presented by the opposition on the floor of the National Assembly on 1 April when it blocked the government’s move to table a resolution authorising the speaker to constitute a parliamentary committee on electoral reforms.

As soon as the minister read out the resolution for the formation of the parliamentary committee, the opposition members protested over it for presenting the resolution unilaterally. “You cannot constitute a committee without the consent of the opposition even if you are doing it after receiving an order from someone,” said PPP’s Shazia Marri in an apparent reference to last month’s letter written by Prime Minister Imran Khan to Speaker Asad Qaiser asking him to form the committee.

PML-N MNA from Gujranwala Khurram Dastagir Khan was more categorical as while opposing the formation of the committee, he asked the government to hold consultations with the opposition and then asked as to how could there be consultations when the Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif, PML-N’s parliamentary leader Khawaja Asif and PPP’s Syed Khursheed Shah were behind bars on trumped up charges.

Hot-headed Communications Minister from Swat Murad Saeed as usual took the floor but Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri made a rare intervention and prevented him from attacking the opposition parties. Suri directed the parliamentary affairs minister to bring the resolution to the house again after reaching a consensus with the opposition parties.

The root cause of squabbling within the ranks of the PDM is the deep mistrust the PPP and the PML-N have for one another. Each of the arch-rivals of the yesteryears suspects the other of having reached some kind of an understanding with the powers that be.

Though, the top leaders of both parties are showing restraint, their second and third tier leaders and office-bearers continue to attack one another through statements to the media as well as social media posts.

Some political observers believe the two parties are doing all this under a well thought-out scheme. The members of this group are of view that the two parties are preparing themselves to face each other in the political battlefield after sensing some imminent change political change.

Leading English Daily Dawn in one of its editorial said the PDM was “collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions” and the escalating war of words between its two largest parties is rupturing the alliance beyond repair.

Perhaps the alliance could have been saved had the leaders of the two parties confined their disagreements to closed-door meetings, and attempted to resolve these differences with a flexible approach.

“The PTI now finds itself in a better position to take advantage of the split in the opposition. For this no one is to blame other than the leadership of the two opposition parties. They cut the branch they were sitting on and now they are paying the price for it,” says the newspaper.

On the other hand, it remains to be seen if the PTI can capitalize on the disarray in the ranks of the opposition coalition. The ruling party is facing an internal crisis of its own triggered by a corruption probe against party stalwart Jahangir Tareen.

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