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Can a weak Opposition topple PM Imran’s popular government?

Opposition parties want to topple PM Imran’s government for being ‘inexperienced’ and ‘inefficient’. However, the government’s success on the international front and its ability to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic means it still enjoys popular support.

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The main Opposition parties in Pakistan have announced to formally start off the anti-government campaign from October 11. According to local media reports, the first public meeting of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of the opposition parties to topple Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government, will be held on October 11 in Quetta.

While addressing a press conference after PDM’s formal meeting, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader and former prime minister, said the anti-government movement will be launched across the country after the “historic” rally in Quetta. “This movement will keep growing and will be successful in ridding Pakistan of this undemocratic process,” said Abbasi, accompanied by other opposition leaders. Senior leaders of PML-N, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and other political parties attended the meeting.

The Opposition’s relationship with the government has been patchy since the time PM Khan assumed the office. However, the situation got intense after corruption cases against the Sharif and Zardari families were filed in the courts. An All Parties Conference (APC) was called in Islamabad on September 20 where Nawaz Sharif, former prime minister, addressed the participants and slammed the country’s establishment for political engineering.

“It is saddening that the situation has escalated to the level where we now have a state above the state,” said Sharif via a video link from London. “Either we have martial laws in the country or a strong parallel government is created whenever we have a civilian government. Our foremost priority is to get rid of this non-representative, incapable, and selected government,” he said.

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Later on, Opposition criticized the government after Shehbaz Sharif, President of PML-N, was arrested as his bail petition was dismissed by the Lahore High Court (LHC). Notably, he got an extension in pre-arrest bail more than five times in the past six months. His party, however, blamed the government once his petition was dismissed by the court.

Can opposition topple Khan’s government?

Political analysts and experts are now deliberating over an intriguing question; can the opposition topple PM Khan’s government?  Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political analyst who served as a senior official during the 2018 polls, said during a talk-show on Dunya TV that “the movement will likely involve more rhetoric than action”. Dr. Rizvi was of the view that the opposition parties won’t be able to stay united as many of them have “competing and contradictory interests”.

There is also an opinion that the opposition is likely to fail due to an obvious that it has no anti-government plan. “The opposition will not be able to sell out its narrative. Khan’s government has a success story when it comes to the Foreign Relations, it has an exemplary performance when it comes to defeating COVID-19, and Khan’s speeches at the UN made him a hero,” a senior bureaucrat told GVS. The officer was of the view that the opposition could set the agenda on high inflation but that is insufficient to shape an anti-government narrative when the current government seems to have done more than its capacity.

However, sources in PML-N and PPP claim that the unprecedented rate of unemployment and inflation is enough to topple the government. Notably, due to structural challenges, Khan’s government failed to have a check and balance over the prices of wheat and oil. The opposition appears to capitalize on the same.

Nawaz Sharif crossed the red line?

The former ruling party—PML-N— is now advancing an argument that Nawaz has crossed all the limits, and became a staunch supporter of democracy in Pakistan. However, political analysts are of the view that Nawaz Sharif did not cross the red line. Nawaz has, argue commentators, sent a message that “he and his followers have not lost their fire especially if the pressure on them is ratcheted up,” wrote Arifa Noor, Dawn’s former Resident Editor, in Islamabad.

Noor also pointed out that Nawaz did not name those behind the present-day political engineering; “The former premier remembered that a retired officer had a role to play in the fall of the Noon government in Balochistan but not the names of the ones who may have tinkered with the no-confidence move against the Senate chairman or the vote in the joint session last week. The omissions were more telling than the stories told and the people named,” she maintained.

“Nawaz Sharif has not burnt all his boats, to mix metaphors. He is too astute a politician to do otherwise, regardless of what his hard-line leaders and followers expect,” Noor concludes.

Read More: Khan’s idealism or JKT’s realism?

The dominant view in policymaking circles in Islamabad is that the Opposition lacks both a strong will and the required capacity to topple the government. It is, on the contrary, making attempts to pressurize the government and the establishment to seek some concessions to evade the ongoing accountability drive.

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