Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad and Kiran Stacey in New Delhi
The two dynasties that have battled for control of Pakistan for generations will join forces on Monday, promising to stage “noisy protests” inside parliament against the results of last month’s elections as new members take their oaths. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which is controlled by the Sharif family, and the Pakistan Peoples party, run by the Bhuttos, have formed an unlikely alliance against Imran Khan, the former cricketer whose party won most seats last month. Analysts say that if the two parties manage to maintain their unity, they could present a significant obstacle for Mr Khan, who is due to take his oath as prime minister in the coming days. One senior PML-N politician said: “Inside the house we are going to keep up the clamour that the elections were clearly rigged.”
A leader of the PPP added that the two parties would combine forces inside parliament over the next few years “on important political and legislative issues”. Mr Khan has spent the past few weeks composing a governing coalition, after his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party won 116 of the 272 contested parliamentary seats. His negotiations have taken place, however, against a backdrop of protests by the opposition parties, which claim the PTI was helped by interference from the country’s powerful security services — something denied by both the PTI and the army. Recommended Geopolitical shifts Imran Khan, cricket star with a taste for victory The controversy has formed an unexpected bond between the PPP and the PML-N, whose ruling families have been in charge of Pakistan for about half of the past 50 years, and which jointly won 107 seats at the election. The PPP is run by Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the husband and son respectively of the late former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. The head of the PML-N is Shehbaz Sharif, whose brother Nawaz Sharif was ousted as prime minister on corruption charges last year and is now serving a 10-year jail sentence. Together with a group of smaller parties they announced they have formed a “grand opposition alliance”, which has plans to nominate alternative candidates for prime minister and speaker of the parliament.
Analysts say they do not expect the opposition parties to be able to form a government, not least because they fear a backlash from voters, among whom Mr Khan remains popular. Ali Sarwar Naqvi, a political commentator, said: “Ever since the elections, opposition parties have been unable to show strength on the streets. Imran Khan is new and untested and therefore there is a lot of enthusiasm over his arrival.” But many believe the alliance could make its presence felt in parliament over the next few years, especially as Mr Khan’s first job will be to repair the country’s balance sheet, possibly by enacting unpopular spending cuts or tax rises. Asad Umar, Mr Khan’s proposed finance minister, has said the country has just weeks to secure extra financing to meet its external debt requirements. Ghazi Salahuddin, a political commentator for The News newspaper, said: “As time goes by and the new government faces difficult choices, the opposition will gain strength — especially if Imran Khan himself becomes unpopular.”