From rejecting Parliament to re-joining Parliament, Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) politics has dramatically changed track in the last seven days. The man responsible for this shift is former President Asif Ali Zardari – who till December 27 was watching all developments from the back seat.
The first domino in this series of events fell on December 28, when Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) Central Executive Committee (CEC) suddenly decided to participate in the Senate elections and by-elections. This was a shock for many opposition members, who had been acting like a revolutionary council up up till that moment.
Sources privy to the development said the former president had advised Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman to stand down from his extreme position – this conversation was held few days before Benazir Bhutto’s death anniversary. Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, whose political friendship with Asif Ali Zardari is decades old, was not happy with this advice and expressed his displeasure by staying away from the Larkana rally.
The Larkana rally was a pivotal moment; it had created uneasiness in the PPP ranks due to Maryam Nawaz’s fiery speech and the charged response it elicited from the attending political workers – who were mostly from PPP.
Asif Ali Zardari was watching all this through a video link.
Zardari takes charge
The next day, on December 28, the Central Executive Committee of the PPP heldits meeting and this was the real game changer. Sources said Zardari asked members of the CEC what would happen once the opposition resigned from the assemblies. He reminded the CEC that the government would call elections on their seats and political engineering could provide them with an absolute majority. Sources add that the former Presidentwarned that the government would repeal the 18th Amendment and could bring in a “presidential system” if the opposition were to leave the Parliamentary forum. He further told the PPP leaders that the government also had the option of calling local government elections, and if they boycotted the elections PDM parties will not be able to participate at all; and if they did participate, they would lose all political credibility.
Zardari reminded the CEC that only dialogue with the establishment could create space, not the collision course.
It was also discussed that in case of a collision PPP will lose a lot compared to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) or Jamiat Ulema-e Islam-Fazal (JUI-F). A simmering distrust of the PML-N leadership is also prevailing within the PDM; the politics of the past have not been completely forgotten. PPP’s leadership has faced long terms behind bars while PML-N supremo has been critcised in opposition circles for cutting a deal to stay away from jail.
Alliance in crisis
After this announcement, a crises emerged in the PDM. Sources said Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman declaimedonce again that he had lost hope in the PDM leadership. However, Maryam Nawaz tried to mend the rapidly fraying ties and promptly met with the JUI-F chief. Following this, a meeting was called to decide a joint strategy for the future.
In this meeting, Asif Ali Zardari led the PPP, instead of Bilawal, and maintained his stance that taking an extreme position will go in the favour of the government. In response Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman argued that without some action or activity the opposition would not get any space in the current scenario, sources privy to the meeting said. Sources also indicate that PML-N, despite its combative stance, has been facing resistance within party on the issue of mass resignations.
As PPP stuck to its stance, PDM was not left with much choice.
Back to the drawing board
Therefore, Pakistan Democratic Movement, decided on Saturday to participate in the by-elections, but deferred its decision on participating in the Senate elections for the time being. The PDM further decided to continue it’s protest campaign across Pakistan.
Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman said if the government did not resign by January 31, PDM will announce a long march. It will give the date for the march and also announce whether the march will be directed towards Islamabad or towards Rawalpindi. Sources said the option for a march towards Rawalpindi was added on the insistence of Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman.
PPP’s time at the forefront
Before December 27, PDM was dominated by the PML-N but now PPP seems to have taken up the mantle of decision maker.
In a video address on December 27, Zardari had said: “my wish for all political parties to come on one page, but do not tell us what we should do. We have handled this situation before. Listen to us, learn from us, I have sent a general home, we can throw away Niazi too.”
But more is at play in these events than personal experience and political manoeuvrings. More so than other Pakistani parties, PPP still retains good relations with global players such as the US and China, and thus has an edge over other parties. PPP has always been highly regarded in the Democratic Party and in the Chinese government, and it still has close contacts with President-elect Joe Biden’s team.
Pakistan’s politics will now hinge on when the Senate elections would be called, and what would emerge when the dust settles from that contest. Political circles believes that after Asif ali Zardari’s active participation in PDM, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman may find some space and perhaps may even reach the Senate.
However, for the time being protest rallies will continue, along with participation in elections. The collision course has been abandoned.