Role of opposition in democracy

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There is a lot which the PML-N and the PPP, two prominent opposition parties could learn from the mistakes committed in the post July 25 elections and allowed ‘walkover’ to the PTI and Prime Minister Imran Khan. Credit also goes to the ruling party for exploiting the situation well in their favour.

Opposition differences came as a blessing in disguise for the government and Imran. The role of the opposition in any democracy is to look for government weakness, put their input in legislation and give tough time to the ruling party and the government. The present opposition is both big as well as comprises some very good parliamentarians, who know the art of opposition. Ruling PTI, with a 22 years experience as opposition party and the way it became the biggest party also knows how to keep a check on them as well as how to take them along on issues.

Imran is challenging them on moral grounds as his government is about to reopen all the pending inquires which relate to the cases of corruption allegedly of both the PML and the PPP tenures. That was one of the reasons why the premier had asked its adviser and former PPP leader Babar Awan to resign and face NAB reference. He could have done the same in other cases or inquiries against the PTI leaders.

All three know about the ‘role of the opposition’. The PML-N had vast experience of the government but during the nine years of former president Pervez Musharraf, they had also learnt the art of opposition and that too challenging the establishment, politics, which the PPP had adopted and also paid a heavy price. Politics within the opposition these days revolves around personal egos rather than on certain principles. Opposition to Shahbaz Sharif and Aitzaz Ahsan respectively was not based on any principle but on personal remarks and comments.

The two could have learnt from their own past like the circumstances in which both the late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif had agreed on ‘Charter of Democracy’. The PPP in the past had even accommodated people who had direct or indirect role in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s judicial murder. Today, the defence of both the PPP and the PML-N is linked to mere statements and remarks and not on any major difference on any ‘principle’. The present opposition looks strong in numbers as compared to the PTI in 2013, but the latter gave a real tough time to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. It was good to see that both Shahbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto agreed on forgetting what happened in the past few days and looked for way forward.

The way forward for any opposition, if they really want to come close is on ‘forgiveness’, something which is missing at present between these two key opposition parties.

Had they been united soon after July 25, they could have given some anxious moments to the PTI and its leader Imran Khan, both at the Centre and in Punjab. But both former president Asif Ali Zardari and Shahbaz Sharif looked too bitter against each other and in the end they emerged as losers.

Tuesday’s presidential election was the first of its kind where out of three candidates only one candidate and party was confident of winning and the other were not even making any claim of victory because they had read the ‘writing on the wall’. It is true that even the combined opposition could not have defeated president-elect Dr Arif Alvi, but it would certainly not been a ‘walkover’-like situation and the PTI would have been facing tough conditions from their allies like the MQM-P, BNP and others particularly Independents for ‘presidential vote’.

The opposition parties started well when they met for the first time soon after election. The first disagreement among them was based on ‘principle’, over taking oath as they knew that if they had not taken oath, it could have threatened the democratic system. Thus, the PPP in particular took a position like the one they took in 2014 and other parties agreed including the PML-N and the MMA too. But then the PPP got off track like what they had previously done prior to Senate elections in Balochistan and during Senate chairman elections.

After all they did agreed on certain principles when they decided which party would be supported in speaker, deputy speaker and prime minister’s elections so why both the PPP and the PML-N took a ‘U-turn’.

When it was decided that the PPP would nominate candidate for speaker, the MMA, for deputy speaker and the PML-N for PM, without going into details over the names why the PPP backed out on the PML-N nominee while the PML-N and the MMA, supported Khursheed Shah on speaker and the PPP and the PML-N voted for the MMA candidate on deputy speaker slot.

Last minute change of hearts on part of the PPP on Shahbaz’s name caused the first dent in opposition’s rank and file. However, the PML-N could have given second thought as they all knew the result and Shahbaz was already getting the slot of leader of the opposition.

But the PPP had a weak defence in taking a ‘U-turn’, and their leaders themselves know that it was nothing but ‘personal’ reason. Zardari would not have been a loser had he forgotten what Sharifs had said about him.

On the other hand, Shahbaz should have also admitted and regretted his personal remarks in the past as Nawaz Sharif had done in case of Benazir Bhutto in 2006. He had admitted his mistakes and how he was used by the then establishment. Benazir too showed grace and admitted her mistake.

Similarly, the PML-N opposition on the name of Aitzaz Ahsan as presidential candidate was not based on any principle but on his personal remarks against Begum Kulsoom Nawaz.

There is no doubt that the remarks of Shahbaz Sharif against Asif Zardari and Aitzaz Ahsan’s about Begum Kulsoom Nawaz, were in bad taste but in our politics our leaders hardly have any control over use of language.

The PML-N could have also considered what role Aitzaz had during the lawyers’ movement and he had even supported Nawaz Sharif in the past and that too at the cost of his own party leadership.

Both parties could have reached on some kind of consensus had the PML-N leader Pervaiz Rasheed’s statement made things bad to worse as one was not expecting such a ‘harsh condition’ from someone as ‘cool minded’ as the PML-N senator.

So if one goes through the defence given by both the PPP and the PML-N for not supporting Shahbaz and Aitzaz respectively, it looked very weak because once you agreed to support each other’s candidate you leave it to the party, which did not happen.

When the late Benazir Bhutto used the term ‘democracy is the best revenge’, her opponents termed it a politics of compromise on basic principles. When she reached an accord with Nawaz Sharif on ‘Charter of Democracy’, the critics called it as charter for friendly opposition as the interest of both had been hurt.

But if you go through the document of CoD, it still provides the way forward, not only for the PPP and the PMLN) but for all the opposition parties. The opposition parties have to decide what kind of role they want to play. They have cards in their hand but it appears they are confused as how to play with these cards. In politics, time is important and both government and opposition parties have time to play their cards well, provided they know how to play and when to play.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO

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