The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) suffered a huge setback early this week when its Secretary General Shahid Khaqan Abbasi not only served show cause notices to the heads of PPP and ANP for allegedly violating the PDM’s decisions, but also made them public. The ANP was so incensed that it not only parted ways with the PDM but also accused some parties of hijacking it for their own agendas. The PPP has not yet formally responded but its Central Executive Committee is scheduled to meet in Karachi on Sunday for this purpose.
The notice to Bilawal Bhutto was delivered to senior party leader Raja Pervez Ashraf past midnight on April 3, just few hours before formal observance of the 42nd death anniversary of its founding chairman Zulfikar Ali Bhutto commenced across the country.
It asked PPP to “explain within seven days” why it violated the decision of a subcommittee of the PDM about nominations to the position of Opposition Leader in the Senate. Worse still, it asked, “Why it created a bloc of independent senators in collaboration with the government” for this purpose.
It escaped Mr Khaqan that the PDM is not a political party. It is a grouping of various parties with different outlooks and different manifestos which have gathered together for a limited political objective. It is not even an electoral alliance.
Khaqan failed to realize the grave implications of charge-sheeting another party with ‘collaboration with the government’ and then making public the formal charge sheet. An emergency meeting of the PDM could have been convened to discuss grievances if any. Political parties are not structured in the manner of government departments. Even within them show cause notices are usually not made public. Was it merely a grave error of judgment or it was designed to paint a major component party black and bring it under pressure and to what end?
The central issue bedeviling the PDM has been resignations from the parliament. However, in hybrid deliberations attended by heads of all component parties including Nawaz Sharif from London, it addressed differences with remarkable unity of purpose. The internal discussions were also not allowed to spill over into the public domain. That it will spell disaster for unity if any party felt that it was being embarrassed in public to pressurize it should be clear even to meanest intelligence.
The PPP’s stance was explained unambiguously in a meeting at the Raiwind residence of Mian Nawaz Sharif on February 1, in which the PML-N supremo also participated from London via video link.
The PPP argued that even if all PDM legislators resigned from the National Assembly, the quorum in both Houses from a legal and constitutional standpoint would still be complete. The constitutional requirement for quorum would not be violated in case all PDM legislators resigned. Nothing will stop unilateral legislation by the government.
It will also be obligatory for the ECP to announce the schedule of by-elections. In such a case, the PPP had argued that the PTI and its allies will have a clean electoral sweep. The PTI may be on weak moral ground but politically and legally there is nothing to stop it from securing the majority that will give it a handle even to amend the Constitution.
Both the selected and the powerful selectors have made known their aversion to the 18th Amendment and the NFC Award. The PPP minced no words in warning that a process of constitutional roll back will begin in the name of the Constitution itself if the parliament was abandoned. Considerations of morality have no place in hard political calculations. It was unrealistic to assume that Imran will automatically step down or by-elections will not be held. In fact, it will be seen as a Godsent opportunity to wrap up the 18th Amendment.
The PPP still regrets how the boycott of the 1985 party-less election by General Zia dealt a severe blow to democracy. The eighth constitutional amendment, incorporating the name of Zia in it, was brought by the 1985 assembly. It took more than two decades to undo the immorality of the eighth amendment. As it turned out later, the military regime at the time had actually infiltrated its agents to affect election boycotts.
The PPP remembered that in 1997 its chairperson Benazir Bhutto was similarly approached by some elements to resign from the assemblies because the elections were rigged. She, however, flatly refused. Recalling the experience of 1985, she said that she will not allow a void to be created for undemocratic forces sitting on the fence. Refusing to abandon the parliament, she remained in it even when the PPP had only 17 MNAs. The PPP cannot forget those lessons.
Despite PPP’s clear stance, however, on the eve of the last meeting of the PDM, the long march was publicly linked with resignations by the PML-N and JUI. The PPP refused to budge. Maulana Fazalur Rehman then announced postponing the long march and left the press conference rather unceremoniously.
The core issue clearly is resignations from assemblies and not violating some PDM decisions.
Other issues are of secondary nature. For the sake of argument, the PML-N may also be accused of defying PDM decisions. Contrary to PDM decisions, it put up its candidate on the general senate seat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and refused to withdraw its candidate in Nowshera (Pk-63) by-election. Similarly, no one made an issue of the PML-N let alone accusing it of “collaboration with the government” after its deal with the PTI in Punjab to get its senators elected unopposed. But these transgressions were never allowed to be made an issue, not in public at least.
The strategy of fighting within the parliamentary system has paid political dividends. Yousaf Raza Gilani securing majority votes of the members of National Assembly served as a vote of no confidence against the prime minister. The PDM parties won almost all by-elections to various national and provincial assembly seats. The fiasco in Daska by election sent the selected government reeling.
One hopes parties in the PDM realize the need for damage control. The wrecking of unity at this time will be most damaging to its collective cause. It will benefit only the regime and its powerful backers. With sincerity of purpose, political will and adherence to the principle of consensus-based decisions, the PDM should be able to survive the setback and move on.
The writer has participated in all PDM