There once was a time when Pakistan’s parliament had an opposition and an opposition leader. The prime objective of the opposition would be to criticize the government where it erred, suggest better substitute polices, measures and laws. An opposition, under the guidance of its leader, was an effective in-house check on a government. It would ensure that the government does not get carried away with its power and that democracy does not become an autocracy.
The purpose, however, was not just to hold the government accountable within the parliament, but also outside it. An opposition leader is usually elected from the party that has majority seats in the opposition benches. Meaning thereby that the opposition party would have a significant following among the masses and by that virtue, would be able to keep a check on the government’s performance. It could question the prime minister and his cabinet on allegations of corruption, nepotism and such other acts that are outside or against the State’s interests.
For most of the last two and half decades, role of opposition in the National Assembly has been given to either the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) or the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN). In the 90s, both these parties took turns at treasury and opposition benches. There was a bitter rivalry between the two, quite like the one we now see between PMLN and Pakisan Tehrik e Insaf (PTI).
Then Pervez Musharraf’s coup and consequent regime brought the two rivals closer. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif slowly began to shun old enmities and joined forces against the dictator. Many saw this affinity as temporary and born out of necessity. Since neither were in government, there wasn’t much to hate. It was predicted and expected that once Musharraf was ousted and the turn taking recommenced, the rivalries will re-ignite.
On the unfortunate eve of 27th December, 2007, Muhtarma Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. On its way out of this mortal world, Muhtarma’s soul was accompanied by the soul of her party. Unlike her sudden and quick demise, the demise of her party was a slow one. Her husband took reigns of the PPP by virtue of the most secret public document ever.
Under Asif Ali Zardari’s leadership, PPP saw a complete change in its policies, stance, values and face. A new kind of friendship developed between age old rivals. The PPP and PMLN became closer than ever, with Mr. Asif Ali Zardari becoming brothers with Mr. Nawaz Sharif. A friendship that benefitted PMLN politically and Zardari personally, and at the cost of Benazir’s party.
Love was in the air. After a short stay in coalition, PMLN parted ways with PPP’s government and assumed the opposition’s role. Only PMLN’s opposition from 2009-2013 and PPP’s opposition from 2013 till date is not entirely an opposition. The two parties have been mutually more cooperative, than parties in coalition with each other.
Recently some members of the PPP, especially from Punjab – where PPP has suffered the major brunt of its leader’s love affair – have had outbursts of criticism on their party’s relationship with PMLN. The party is literally in tatters. Zardari is, however, quite comfortable with his arrangement with the PMLN. While the party and its ideological members suffer, Zardari makes personal gains. His mutually beneficial love for PMLN leaders, guised under the pretext of conciliation, is by far the most effective blow to PPP that has shaken the party’s roots and has left little promise for a comeback.
PPP under Asif Zardari is not an opposition. While some members may be able to criticize the government and PPP-PMLN marriage, Zardari has nothing but a loving “aw” for his “brother’s” actions and statements. Even if PPP is in the opposition, Mr. Zardari and his cronies are perpetually in an “aw-position” for the PMLN.
In Punjab, PPP left an open ground for PMLN in the 2013 elections. Many PPP candidates came out with embarrassing vote count at the end. The space was effectively ceded to PMLN, as many staunch PPP voters opted for the PMLN candidates and ‘electables’, most of whom were contesting on PMLN’s tickets. PTI also took its due share in the spoils and emerged as the second largest party, but its share was considerably smaller. Zardari’s cooperation landed PMLN in a much stronger position than it expected. This, by the way, was one of the causes for a rise in votes for PMLN, just like a rise in PTI’s vote bank, since around 20 to 40 thousand votes per constituency were up for grabs after PPP had ditched them.
By the way, while PTI is now busy picking up hitch hikers ditching PPP posing as electables, it must bear in mind that most of them do not hold the vote bank they once held, the vote bank has already been divided among PTI and PMLN.