In politics, there is no such thing as unconditional support, particularly not between reluctant allies forced to make opposition together. For the speaker’s left side of the bench, there are no rules binding different parties to demonstrate their loyalty to the opposition leader, and that is the lesson Shehbaz Sharif learned on Friday, when Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) failed to honour their commitment to vote for him.
There are those criticising PPP for not voting for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) candidate for Prime Minister, but the fact of the matter is that PPP had no democratic obligation to honour any promises to vote for a rival political party’s candidate. Considering the wide range of differences between the two parties, PPP is in its democratic rights to refuse to cooperate with PML-N, especially if the party feels it is receiving the short end of the stick when it comes to their joint opposition. PPP has won more seats and has performed better in Punjab than it did in 2013, thus it is in a good position now to leverage greater deals for itself in a joint opposition.
More than not, the events of the National Assembly session should serve as a lesson to PML-N on how to operate as the leading opposition party, and how important it is to accommodate and inculcate its allies on the left side of the bench if it needs to function as a strong opposition. A bickering opposition only benefits the government, but unfortunately it seems neither party is willing to set aside its differences to find common ground. The PPP had stated before the PM election that they would not vote for Shehbaz Sharif, and would prefer a more inclusive candidate to be the PM nominee, yet PML-N refused to compromise. Now it appears that their flimsy alliance has further weakened, with reports that PML-N is looking to replace Sherry Rehman as Senate Opposition Leader with Zafar-ul-Haq. So far, the prediction of a strong opposition keeping PTI on its toes does not seem to be holding up well, all to PTI’s benefit.
Fairly or unfairly, the days are gone when the PML-N held such an absolute majority that it could exercise power without needing to appease anyone except its own party members. Now, it is an opposition party, and it needs the support of other parties if it needs to get anywhere. In the opposition, if a party can’t bend, it breaks.