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Pakistan Reader# 169, 21 March 2021

The Future of PDM: Will the Opposition alliance break up?



PR Debate

The scholars of the NIAS-PR Course on Contemporary Pakistan debate on the likely outcomes over the PDM differences. Following is the debate - placing two different arguments - that the PDM will split, and another argument against it.

NIAS-PR Course Scholars

There is a crisis within the Pakistan Democratic Movement. The PML-N, JUI-F, and smaller political parties want to launch the "Long March" against the PTI within the alliance. As a first step, they want to submit their resignations in the Parliament and the provincial assemblies.

The PPP is against the idea of resignation. This has resulted in a significant different within the PDM. The PDM has already postponed its Long March. Will the differences lead to PDM breaking up? Will the parties withing the PDM find minimum common ground?

The scholars of the NIAS-PR Course on Contemporary Pakistan debate on the likely outcomes over the PDM differences. Following is the debate - placing two different arguments - that the PDM will split, and another argument against it.
 
The PDM will not split
 
Vishnu Prasad
Post Graduate Scholar, CHRIST University 
While it is true that the Pakistan Democratic Movement has not presented a united front of late, there is still no reason to expect an imminent collapse of the coalition. The main reason for this is that the various constituent parties have too much to lose by disbanding the PDM right now, with the PTI govt led by Imran Khan still firmly in power. With the senate elections going against it and the Pakistan Election Commission training its guns on it, the PTI govt has had many recent blows. Splitting the PDM at this juncture would be tantamount to wasting whatever momentum they have built up till now, and the likes of Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari know better than that.
 
There is also the fact that, despite the recent disagreement over resigning from assemblies, PDM leaders are still willing to talk it out. As long as communication channels are still open, there will remain hope that a mutual understanding will be arrived at. One gets the picture that there needs to be something much bigger than just a disagreement in strategy on how to counter the PTI govt, which is effectively what the current issue is, to break apart the PDM.
 
Sneha M
Post Graduate Scholar, CHRIST University 
The future of PDM stands unyielding for three reasons. First, the PDM, which is the largest opposition formed in the country, will not yield to matters that could be resolved quickly. After losing in Senate elections, PDM faces a rift, but that will not continue for a simple reason because "politics is a game of survival in power". Therefore, any single chance to dwindle the ruling party is quintessential for every party, be it, PML-N, PPP or JUI-F.

Second, the PDM will not break because, with the onset of Senate and by-elections, the PTI's nervousness had grown rapidly and misplayed its cards. For example, rigging in Daska elections and open ballot controversy symbolizes the PDM's upper hand.
 
Third, the PDM is firm in not letting PTI bulldoze their larger aims and objectives. The PDM has a historic opportunity to change the political waters for the good of the country until they choose not to dwell into these smaller intra-party divides, which will further lead to further voyage into disillusionment.
 
Rakesh Roshan
M Phil Scholar, Central University of Haryana
Post Senate elections, there are speculations of a possible rift in the coalition of opposition parties, PDM. The rumours which pointed towards PPP leaving PDM stands questioned as senior PPP leader Nayyar Hussain Bukhari reiterated PPP as the key founder of the whole Pakistan democratic movement.
 
The onus of unity of PDM lies on PPP only. While comments by senior leaders of PPP suggests no breakup, there are minimal chances of PPP leaving PDM over Senate election results. As said, PPP being the founding member of PDM, will not want the rift as it allows it to have the edge over the current politics. With Maulana Fazlur Rehman still on board with PDM, PPP will have access to its conservative Muslim vote bank and would not like to leave an opportunity to have a significant vote bank outside Sindh.
Also, even if there are disagreements among the parties in PDM, they are willing to talk about it as countering PTI is their prime goal. The 'long march' will take a longer than usual route, but PDM will succeed in cornering the government without any rift.
 
Rishabh Yadav
Independent Scholar 
The PDM is not going to split but will manage their differences internally. For PPP, leaving PDM and showing a conciliatory attitude towards the Establishment will only bring the charge of 'new selected' that it would not want. PML-N recognizes that post-2018, electoral politics have transformed from a dominant two-party system to a three-party system. The competition in Punjab has increased, and it is no longer a privileged kingmaker. For forming any future government, they need to go beyond traditional allies, and PDM provides that platform. PPP's conciliatory tone from the PDM platform allows PMLN to have an anti-establishment stance without worrying about internal divisions of doves and hawks within the party. The main objective of PDM to keep the Establishment away from managing elections remains unfulfilled. There are no guarantees that electoral manipulation will not take place in the next by-elections (if resignations take place) or general elections. However, PDM was able to create pressure and constrain the actions of the Establishment and PTI government. 
 
Therefore, if not for any other reason, but to sustain that pressure and momentum, the alliance will stay together. Today everyone recognizes that the sum is greater than the parts - PPP minus PDM could be another PTI, a solo act by PMLN against Establishment can lead to either PMLN minus two or break up of the party. For each player, stakes are favourable when united.
 
Hasna Shaikh
Post Graduate Scholar, Goa University 
Pakistan's Democratic Movement is not an alliance between the political parties but a coalition of politicians with various interests. It has been seen that there are fissures occurring within PDM, but it will be dealt with inside. 
 
The experienced politicians - from Nawaz Sharif of PML-N to Asif Ali Zardari of PPP and other major parties of Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI-F are all birds of the same feathers. They will not easily break the alliance until they are able to gain something big individually. With the rifts coming in PDM, the fear of failure if not remained united against the PTI of Imran Khan exists. The posturing of PPP may just be a means to showcase its presence in the movement timely. Therefore. PDM will survive, and every party will gain its share of benefit until the weakening of PTI and creating ripples in the Establishment happens and may eventually walk its way. 
 
Vishal Rajput
Independent Scholar 
It is indeed remarkable in Pakistan's history that the united opposition front, through the Pakistan Democratic Movement, has explicitly challenged the position of the military Establishment. In this backdrop, the political difference between PPP and PML will be overshadowed in the larger cause of changing the political apparatus of the nation and the supremacy of the Establishment. The stakes of the political future of all opposition parties lie in the success of the PDM. Therefore the possibility of disintegration of PDM remains very short. 
 
The recent defeat of the PDM candidate in the senate elections has undoubtedly created a rift amongst the parties of PDM. However, it seems that the opposition parties will likely manage the rift internally and won't hamper the trajectory of PDM as, at the same time, the senate elections have threatened the PTI's presence after the defeat of their finance minister Hafiz Sheikh. Moreover, the rigging of Daska re-elections and Open Ballot discourse have put PTI in its attempt to sabotage the PDM. 
 
At last, the forthcoming long march to Army Headquarters in Rawalpindi is going to change the political scenario of Pakistan, and the opposition parties have already put in their overwhelming efforts in strengthening a strong opposition to the PTI and Establishment. Therefore, at the critical juncture, it will be a political disaster for all opposition parties if the PDM will break at this time or in the near future. 
 
By taking all these observations into considerations, it seems in the current situation that PDM is less likely to disintegrate or break and will certainly going to change the course of action in the political apparatus of Pakistan.
 
The PDM will split

Abigail Miriam Fernandez
Project Associate, NIAS 
The PDM will split, but it will be a slow burn for two reasons. First, PPP is moving away. The PPP has the most to lose; it retains its government in Sindh, it has built a fairly reliable channel of communication with the Establishment and has re-established its strong presence in the Senate. Thus, with Asif Ali Zardari always seen as a shrewd political player, there would be no reason for risks, deepening the existing cracks. Second, history repeats itself with the clash of narratives between the PPP and the PML-N intensifying. 
 
With the divisions are much more prominent now, the failure of the PDM could have been predicted even before the PDM was formed. It is clear the alliance cannot remain together for much longer unless it comes up with a better strategy. A divided PDM is unlikely to heed any results.
 
Apoorva Sudhakar
Project Associate, NIAS
The PDM will break in a few months, if not immediately, for two reasons.

First, the PDM cannot push the PPP towards mass resignations even if it yields to the PPP's demand to de-link the long march from the resignations; the alliance cannot convince the party to resign from the assemblies. This is because the PDM has not presented to the PPP a post-resignation strategy. The justification that an opposition-less house will hold no ground is not a convincing argument. Most importantly, in light of Gilani's defeat during the Senate Chairman elections, the PPP is likely to take it slower than chart out drastic measures like resignations. 
 
Second, the differences between the major parties in the alliance, the PML-N and PPP, will make it harder to hold the alliance together. Signs of friction were evident when the PML-N presented an anti-establishment stand and the PPP preferred to distance itself from the overt allegations. The trust factor between the two parties also appears to wane away after the Senate Chairman elections; therefore leading to a slow but expected end to the PDM.
 
Abhiruchi Chowdhury
Post Graduate Scholar, Pondicherry University 
PDM is going to collapse, mainly due to two reasons. First, the time has elapsed for long marches. The long march of 26 March getting postponed means it would not take place until October or November because of the upcoming Ramzan month in April and the harsh weather conditions in Punjab and Sindh that would last until September. By that time, preparations for the 2023 elections would embark. There would be no point for the parties to come together as an alliance because, in the end, every party in PDM would fight elections individually. 
 
Second, the reconciliation between PPP, PML-N and JUI-F seems impossible at the moment. The reason behind PPP's unwillingness towards resignation is not only because it does not want to lose its government in Sindh but also if the elections do take place after resignations, it would be a clear-cut advantage for the PML-N as their chances of sweeping the elections at the moment are quite high. On the other hand, other parties, especially the JUI-F, will see no point in continuing to stick to the alliance if PPP does not adhere to its demand for resignations.

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