The Pakistan Democratic Movement, a nexus of parties across the political spectrum, has been rallying against the sitting government and the establishment for the past month. Agitation from the political opposition, no matter who they are, is commonplace and expected however, the public support that the PDM has rapidly gained is what has made it a credible threat to the incumbent government. The question to be asked then is what will the PDM be able to achieve.
The PDM has been doing rally after rally, in an effort to pressurise the government and its ‘selectors’. And, it seems to be working as they have pulled massive crowds at all three rallies so far. This has provided them with the ammunition needed to go down a veritable war path and continue their onslaught against the government and those backing it. Meanwhile, the government has trotted out its ministers, one after the other, to bash the opposition but, their reactionary response coupled with their inability to control the worsening economic situation has only served to highlight how anxious and unsettled the government truly is. So, put together the effect is that the PDM looks poised to unseat the government and push out the ‘selectors’ from the political arena. However, things are never as simple as they seem on the surface. The fact remains that the establishment has long since had an outsized influence on national politics, while the PDM is made up of volatile and disparate parties who have been forced to come together out of necessity. Hence, the government and by extension the establishment aren’t as cowed as they appear to be. This leaves us with three possible outcomes.
The first being that the PDM succeeds in its main goal and the current government is removed, and fresh elections free from the influence of the establishment are held. While it may seem unlikely for a change of this magnitude to occur there is, in fact, a possibility that it may happen. The public is simultaneously facing spiralling inflation and food shortages, and the opposition has done well to pinpoint the blame not only on the government but also on its backers. Which has created a, now popular, narrative of the establishment being responsible for the miserable situation of the general public. This discontent with the PTI government and its selectors will only worsen when the people are hit with lengthy gas shortages in the coming winter. If the PDM times it right they can ride this public wave of anger and oust the government in the next three months. After all, good politics happens when the interests of politicians align with the interests of the public. But, sustaining this traction won’t be an easy feat.
The establishment has not been publicly derided like this in a decade and especially not in Punjab, so they will be looking to break up the PDM as soon as possible. Which brings us to our second option, where after some individuals are shuffled in the top ranks of the establishment and the government, some sort of power-sharing agreement is reached with the opposition. This means that we may see some new faces at the top but in essence the hybrid regime will remain, only that it will stop witch hunting the opposition and secede some power to them. Given Pakistan’s tumultuous history this is the most probable outcome. But, getting the public to accept this outcome may prove to be challenging as the PDM itself has been stoking the flames of discontent against the establishment. The ‘selectors’ would only ever come to the table if the people’s ire is threatening to boil over and scald them too. Yet, that act of compromise might not be enough to pacify the public when they see no immediate change in their situation and that their representatives appear to have sold them out. Thus, there is a significant risk of the PDM losing its support base and then becoming beholden, once again, to the establishment to stay within the corridors of power. This, probably, will not be an attractive option for many in the PDM. Like the PML-N, whose stance has become firmly anti-establishment. The Sharifs’ entire politics is now predicated on being anti-establishment, so much so that they could greatly damage their vote bank if they capitulate to the establishment. Whereas smaller regional parties in the movement such as the PTM, who have legitimate grievances with the establishment will also resist any attempts to mend fences.
Which brings us to the third and last option, where both the PDM and the establishment double down on their current policies and no compromise can be reached. This is the most unlikely scenario, as it is in everyone’s interest for the situation not to devolve to riots and violence. But, in the event that the ‘selectors’ stand by their choice and refuse to budge whilst the economic condition of the country continues to deteriorate, the PDM will have no choice but to continue their protest or fade into obscurity. In a situation akin to this, with tensions and public frustration at an all time high there could be mass protests and riots across the country in an effort to overthrow the current government. Which in turn could prompt a violent crackdown against the protesting public and the PDM. The end result of such a situation is difficult to predict but we can be sure there will be blood and violence.
For now the PDM seems to be holding strong. Despite news of secret backdoor meetings, the PDM is still planning to continue its power shows and so far the government has been unable to do much to stop them. The government cannot even do what most governments customarily do in the face of opposition, which is to jail the leader. As jailing Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman risks inciting the ire of his fanatical supporters, a shrewd move indeed by the opposition. However things turn out, we can be sure that change is in the wind.