The Pulse

Is Pakistan’s Opposition Capable of Mass Mobilization When Necessary?

Is Pakistan’s opposition united and organized enough?

Umair Jamal
Is Pakistan’s Opposition Capable of Mass Mobilization When Necessary?
Credit: Pixabay

The mainstream opposition parties in Pakistan have announced the launch of a movement against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government in the next few weeks. The leadership of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) believes that the government has been trying to isolate the opposition parties by using various state institutions, including the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). The claims made by the opposition parties against the ruling party carry weight as some of the cases being pursued by the government have political motivations.

However, the question remains: Can the opposition parties weaken Khan’s government if they launch a movement against the ruling party?

So far, the chief of the PTI and Pakistan’s current prime minister, Imran Khan, has refused to make any agreement with the opposition parties. Reportedly, Khan has even come under pressure from various segments within his own party. However, Khan has not relented and it’s not likely that he will change his position in the coming weeks and months when it comes to the government curbing the action of a number of accountability institutions against the PPP and PML-N’s leadership.

The opposition parties’ signaling so far has remained focused on offering the government space to work in a hope that Khan may change his position on the issue. During the last few months, the leadership of the PPP and PML-N has not gone beyond giving statements regarding the government’s alleged political discrimination. Clearly, the recent announcement to launch a campaign is an attempt on the part of opposition parties to put the government on notice. However, it’s unlikely that the threats of launching a mass movement are going to shake the government’s position.

The main reason opposition parties have remained reluctant to announce major street action against the government is due to their inability to draw out large crowds. The PPP and PML-N’s leadership are aware that their political support has weakened over the last few years which has directly affected their ability to mobilize masses. PPP has virtually no support base in Punjab, a province which matters to a great extent when it comes to influencing the policy-making process about any major issue. Last week, the PPP’s attempt to carry out a small anti-government rally in the country’s capital was met with a fierce crackdown. The PML-N, on the other hand, is divided with its leadership facing significant prison time. In fact, in another attempt to mount further pressure on the PML-N, the government has decided to go after the newly elected leadership of the party. A few days ago, PTI filed a petition in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), challenging the appointment of Maryam Nawaz, daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as PML-N’s vice president.

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Moreover, while the PTI has a wide-ranging support base within the state’s structure, the opposition doesn’t have any leverage within a number of major state institutions. In fact, the threats of launching a movement against the ruling party amount to going against the state institution, which is supportive of the ruling party’s anti-corruption drive. Arguably, it’s likely that the opposition may not launch the campaign at all even after making announcements in this regard. It’s possible that all opposition parties are not in favor of going ahead with the anti-government movement. The last few months’ of politics have only antagonized various state institutions as the opposition political parties have not only blamed Khan’s government for their alleged ill-treatment, but also the NAB, which is carrying out the accountability campaign. These are some of the concerns that the opposition should be worried about at this point.

It’s important to note that once the opposition parties have launched the campaign against the ruling party, they have no other option but to go all the way. A halfhearted effort that results into the opposition parties ending their movement without achieving any major concessions from the government is not only going to hurt the opposition further, but will further vitalize the ruling party’s anti-corruption drive.