GP Insights # 426, 18 October 2020
On 16 October, the Opposition parties joined together to kick-start their first rally in Gujranwala under the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) banner, promising to turn the rally into a 'big power show.' The 11-party PDM in what was seen as an impressive show of strength promised to dislodge the "selected and incapable" PTI government in weeks. Hundreds of supporters and workers had gathered at the Jinnah Stadium from different cities in the form of rallies while shouting 'Go Imran Go' as violations of safety protocols were observed.
While addressing the gathering via a video link, Nawaz Sharif accused the Establishment of being behind his ouster as prime minister and for "bringing Imran Khan into power". Further, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) Chief and the PDM President Maulana Fazlur Rehman said the Opposition was committed to restoring the sanctity of the people's vote. Pakistani Muslim League (Nawaz) Vice-President Maryam Nawaz, as she departed for the tweeted, "I embark on this mission as your foot soldier, Nawaz Sharif. I have dedicated myself to your struggle, your mission for Pakistan and its people." Similarly, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari invited every Pakistani to become part of the PDM and end the "joke" that is going on in Pakistan for the last 70 years.
What is the background?
First, the rise and coming together of the Opposition parties. The Opposition in an attempt to challenge the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government and its "military backers" took a stand with the creation of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). In September, at the All Parties Conference, a 26-point resolution was adopted in which they vowed to oust, the "selected prime minister" through a mass movement, and called for an end to the Establishment's role in politics. However, this is not the first time that Opposition parties launch anti-government protests. In 2019, the heads of both the PPP and PML-N had attempted to bring the Opposition together on a common anti-government agenda.
Second, the PTI government's response to the PDM. Prime Minister Imran Khan has termed the PDM as an "alliance of jobless politicians," stating that the government would allow for their peaceful procession. However, he has also warned that the law would take its course if anyone was to break it. Further, he has also said that the Opposition wants to create a rift between the government and armed forces, and said that Nawaz is playing a risky game by criticizing the army.
What does it mean?
The creation of the PDM reflects the Opposition's success in coming together. This, in turn, has allowed them to have leverage given its composition of both mainstreams as well as smaller provincial and religious parties. Further, the other major difference between the PDM and any other alliance is the anti-establishment agenda which clearly reflects a marked shift in the Opposition's stance, with the focus now on the Establishment, whom they see as the real power behind the PTI government.
However, the success of the PDM will depend on how it establishes itself as a movement moving from political sloganeering and rhetoric to implementing the objectives of the alliance.
The PTI government has kept a brave face thus far; however, this is just the beginning. It is yet to be seen if the government's confidence will decline as the rally closes in. On the other hand, what the payoff for the Pakistani people remains vague at this point.