OPINION on Pak Politics: PPP Has Upstaged PDM

BY AZIZ AHMED — In the autumn of last year, three major political parties along with some minor parties coalesced to form an alliance. They roped in some other small parties into their alliance and launched the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM).

The PDM leaders tried giving the impression that they are following in the footsteps of such opposition alliances like the MRD formed in the late 1970s against the dictatorship of General Zia ul Haq or the ARD of the late 1990s which struggled against General Pervez Musharaf’s regime.

However, comparing the PDM with the MRD or the ARD remains a bit ironic as those past alliances were led by such political stalwarts as Begum Nusrat Bhutto, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, Meraj Mohammad Khan, Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo, Wali Khan etc. Benazir Bhutto had also emerged as a charismatic young leader with a very mature and sanguine political mind.

Compared to politicians of yesteryears, the present PDM leaders appear like pygmies given their amateurish statements, ill-advised policies and lofty commitments which in their heart of hearts they also know cannot be kept.

Let us analyze the main flaws of the PDM: They started off with a narrative of starting a real people’s movement, which could take on the Establishment and the GHQ for being partners in power with Prime Minster Imran Khan. Nawaz Sharif signaled in his incendiary speeches from London targeting the Army’s top brass, stating that PTI Government was not their prime target.

But this line of attack did not gain much public acceptance and in fact created fissures within the opposition camp, including Sharif’s own political party.

The issues of the masses are different from that of the opposition leaders. The man on the street is more concerned with high inflation, unemployment and lawlessness and not the anti-accountability movement which is close to the hearts of the PDM leaders. The people are more concerned and hurt by the PTI Government’s inept management and handling of the cash crops of sugar and wheat.

During the pandemic, the contradictory message by the PDM leaders criticizing the PTI government for not enforcing complete lockdown to organizing rallies at the height of the second wave of Coronovirus demonstrated their hypocrisy and lack of commitment with the people.

Similarly, the PDM’s empty threats of tendering resignations from the Parliament and ever-changing deadlines for the PTI Government’s departure subjected them to the much-deserved public ridicule. In between the contradictory positions and statements, the PDM’s initial rhetoric of leading a people’s movement against the Establishment was lost.

During these months, there was a rebellion within the JUI (F) contributing more to the sense of disunity and divisions within the PDM ranks. And as PDM descended more into chaos and confusion the revelation of the Broadsheet scandal from London in which the House of Sharifs figure prominently once again brought to the fore Nawaz Sharif and his family’s predicaments.

Sharif, already a proclaimed offender, was seen urging his supporters to give sacrifices while as he himself lives in his luxurious apartment. The public’s memory is not that short for them to have forgotten that he had escaped to London feigning illness. They also remembered his deals with President Musharraf when he flew to Saudi Arabia along with his family, leaving his Party and followers in the lurch.

On top of this, his political heir Maryam carried herself like a princess who has a right to rule. She kept trying to give a message to her supporters that days of her family’s political wilderness were almost over and soon the Sharifs would be back in the driving seat, and it’s a matter of time that the ‘family’ is restored back to its past glory. Maybe, this overconfidence was one of the main reasons for the dismal failure of the Lahore public meeting which she had deemed as a ‘now or never’ moment.

All this confusion in the PML N and JUI F have given the former President Asif Zardari, an opportunity to assert himself in the PDM. As Zardari plays his cards shrewdly, he not only managed to soften the PML N hardliners, but also forced the PML N to adopt the ex-PM Yousuf Raza Gilani as the joint PDM candidate from Islamabad for the Senate. This is a huge symbolic blow to the PML N, which had campaigned for Gilani’s ouster when he was in power. Even if Gilani fails to win the Senate elections, which he is expected to lose, there is no denying the fact that the PML N has lost face – at least in front of its diehard supporters. They remember Nawaz Sharif was in the forefront in getting him unseated as he went to the Supreme Court donning the lawyer’s black coat.

From now onward, Zardari has the reins of the PDM in his hand and is likely to bounce back to the center stage.

Whither PDM now? The much hyped 26 March Long March and its planned sit-in (if it really takes place) is unlikely to cause a change in Islamabad as Ramadan begins in early April which will put a cease to all political activities.

From there onward the national debate is likely to focus more and more on the revelations made in the Broadsheet scandal and the final unfolding of the Daily Mail case. Both of these cases are likely to give negative publicity to the House of Sharifs and their politics while the PPP will get an opportunity to get back into the game for the 2023 polls.

The author is a political analyst in Islamabad. His opinion piece first appeared in The Narratives.