Opposition protests are gathering momentum in Pakistan, with tens of thousands of protesters defying Covid-19 restrictions to demand Prime Minister Imran Khan’s resignation and fresh parliamentary elections, just two years after the cricketer-turned-politician won power.
Pakistan Democratic Movement, the umbrella alliance of the 11 opposition parties, demonstrated in Pakistan’s second-largest city Lahore on Sunday, in the first phase of protests before a planned march in national capital Islamabad in January.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party and slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s party are also part of the movement.
Increasing inflation, a poor economy and restrictions on civil liberties and media censorship have been pointed out by the opposition as the cause of the protests. They blame Imran and the military for them.
Sharif, who addressed the rally via a video link from his London home, said: “Who else do we blame?” He has accused Pakistan army chief general Qamar Javed Bajwa of influencing the 2018 polls.
“One freedom was what we won in 1947 (the creation of Pakistan). Now is the time to win our freedom again,” he said, “I urge young people to come out of their homes (for the cause of democracy).”
Al Jazeera reported the opposition was keen to portray the rally as a “referendum”. However, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government looks “determined to stay in power” and not “buckle under pressure”.
Benazir’s son Bilawal said: “The time to have a dialogue is over. There will be a march now.”
Imran said the campaign aims to blackmail him into dropping corruption charges against the opposition leaders. He also criticised the move to hold a rally amid the coronavirus pandemic.
He has offered to negotiate with the opposition but has refused to drop the graft charges, including those against Sharif.
In November he had tweeted: “Having never worked a day in their lives, their shahi (royal) lifestyles are directly dependent on saving their families’ ill-gotten, illegally acquired wealth through robbing and impoverishing the nation.”