A drawn first round?

All through the past months the political air in the country has rung with disruptive rhetoric

M Ziauddin February 12, 2021
The writer served as executive editor of The Express Tribune from 2009 to 2014

The PTI-led coalition government of Prime Minister Imran Khan seems to have come out almost unscathed from what had appeared to be an intense political pressure it was subjected to since last September by a conglomerate of 11 oppositions parties — the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). It has already organised a number a highly successful and some not-so-successful protest rallies in the country’s major cities. To start with, it threatened to resign from assemblies if the PM did not resign by given deadlines. The deadlines passed but nobody resigned. In fact, the opposition parties instead have contested by-elections on some of the seats that fell vacant. The PDM also announced its intentions to contest the upcoming Senate elections jointly(?). Of course, the opposition has not yet given up its threat to attempt an in-house change to get rid of PM Khan or to call off its proposed march against Islamabad. In fact, just the other day PDM’s chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman threatened to divert its march towards Pindi instead. Responding to the warning, the ISPR Chief extended a warm welcome to the Maulana promising to offer him ‘chai, pani’ on arrival. However, on the face of it, most of the opposition’s apparent ardour with which it had launched its movement seems to have dissipated. Still, its members seemed to have succeeded in keeping their respective parties and their respective political support in the general public more or less intact, effectively frustrating the usual moves of the establishment to break up the ‘discarded’ political parties and distribute the electables among ruling coalitions.

All through the past months the political air in the country has rung with disruptive rhetoric as the two — the government and the opposition — had kept sneering at each other. Vilifying each other as they seemed to be fighting a mud-slinging war of attrition. The opposition was seemingly fighting with its back to the wall as most of the PPP and PML-N leadership had been nabbed by NAB for being allegedly involved in looting public money. Though the government, on the face of it, has appeared to have handled the Covid-19 menace with aplomb and also has to its credit some highly positive economic indicators notwithstanding steep hikes in the prices of some essential items; it too was fighting from a precarious perch as it has very thin majorities both in the National and the Punjab Assembly. And it had also painted itself into an unenviable corner by continuously insisting that the army was with it on the same page reinforcing the image of it being propped up by the establishment.

Under the Constitution, the defence forces are subservient to the elected government of the day, and not its equal. And that in the opinion of a large majority of PDM supporters is perhaps what the opposition’s protest is all about. However, a large majority of the supporters of the government perhaps sincerely believe that the opposition was on the warpath to save its loot and not for any altruistic purpose. Both cannot be right. However, both could be partly right. If so, then the government’s refusal to issue the NRO to anyone would hopefully force the alleged looters to finally cough up at least a part of the loot. And in the meanwhile, the government could use the space that one assumes would be emerging in due course of time as the opposition continues its relentless push against the omnipotent establishment, to retake its full constitutional role of governance usurped gradually over the last seven decades by the establishment.

The 18th Amendment and the 7th NFC Award have already created the space for democratic forces to keep at bay non-democratic forces from expanding their non-elected tentacles in the domain of governance. And Pakistan, as a result, has lately seen two peaceful transfers of power from one elected government to another in 2013 and 2018. One hopes we would hopefully see a third one too in 2023. Let us make a tradition of it while graduating to the next milestones on the road to democracy.



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