An adamant opposition kicked off its final showdown at Lahore’s Minar-e-Pakistan on Sunday as the ‘first phase’ of its anti-government campaign, under the 11-party alliance named the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), came to a close.
The alliance is expected to announce the second phase of its campaign in today’s rally.
The public meeting came despite the PDM leaders being issued security threat alerts as well as being requested by the government to not hold public gatherings as the second Covid-19 wave intensifies. Addressing a press conference on Saturday, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar warned the opposition of necessary action being taken if laws were violated.
The gathering is to be addressed by the usual bigwigs of the PDM – its convener and Jamiat Ulema Islam – Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) Vice President Maryam Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari – besides being addressed by leaders of the opposition parties that are a part of the alliance.
All PDM leaders have taken the stage as crowd greets the opposition leaders with rapturous applause.
Mahmood Khan Ackahzai
Pashtunkhwa Mili Awami Party (PkMAP) leader Mahmood Khan Ackahzai said their PDM movement was not launched for mudslinging but to lay the foundation of the country and follows Constitution and democratic norms.
“Lahorites, I want you to pledge that you will fully participate in the war for the supremacy of Constitution and democracy in the country,” he added.
Amir Haider Khan Hoti
Awami National Party (ANP) leader Amir Haider Khan Hoti said the government was trying to downplay today’s rally, but “in reality PDM has succeeded in staging a grand power show.”
He said former premier Nawaz Sharif was disqualified merely on the basis of ‘Iqama’. The former Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa chief minister lauded the PML-N leadership, saying that Maryam has turned into strength of her father.
Expressing his resolve, he said his party would continue to play its role for the supremacy of parliament and democracy “to block the way for selected leaders to come into power.”
Shah Awais Noorani
Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP) leader Shah Awais Noorani, while addressing the rally, claimed that PTI supporters are attending the PDM’s rally in hiding. “I urge you to rebel against your party,” he said.
Noorani said all democratic forces of the country have decided that dictators will no more be allowed to rule the country. “Despite the passing of 72 years, political parties of the country have not backtracked from their ideology,” he said.
“Those who steal people’s mandate and make government of their own choice will be held accountable.”
Earlier in the day, the opposition leaders arrived at Minar-e-Pakistan from PML-N leader Ayaz Sadiq’s house, where they had gathered for a luncheon and last minute discussions.
Crowds of party supporters were said to have started gathering at the historic venue since last night, while many coming in from other cities had begun assembling at the various interchanges leading to Lahore early in the morning.
In a tweet, Maryam Nawaz reminded the rally’s participants to wear masks “at all times, before, during and after” the rally.
Having reached the venue earlier, PML-N leader Ataullah Tarrar tweeted out pictures of the venue as it started to fill up.
Preparations for the rally had begun days before, with opposition leaders visiting the venue to review them from time to time. The PML-N vice president along with other party leaders also held corner meetings in Lahore over the course of the week to canvass support for the rally.
The PML-N leader also visited the meeting’s venue last night to take stock of the arrangements.
On December 8, the PDM announced that all parliamentarians belonging to its constituent parties would submit their resignations from the national and provincial assemblies to their respective party chiefs by December 31 – finally opting for a last-ditch attempt to send the PTI-led government packing.
The announcement was made at a news conference by the JUI-F chief at a news conference in Islamabad, where he was accompanied by Bilawal and Maryam, after the leadership of the alliance held a meeting to agree on the opposition’s future course of action.
“Opposition lawmakers from the national and provincial assemblies will submit their resignations to their party heads by December 31,”the Maulana said, ruling out any possibility of engaging in a dialogue with the PTI government.
‘Tactic to backfire’
However, while some do see the opposition’s resignations as a somewhat successful pressure tactic, many political analysts and experts claim the move could backfire.
Speaking to senior journalists in Islamabad the same day, Prime Minister Imran Khan accused the opposition of trying to create chaos in the country, saying that some elements from the outside were in cahoots with them as they both have the same agenda.
The premier revealed his government’s strategy in case the opposition resigned from the assemblies, en masse. “It is the right of the opposition to resign. [But] if the opposition resigns, the government will hold by-elections on the vacated seats,” the prime minster told journalists.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) also announced, on December 7, that by-elections would be held if the National Assembly speaker accepted the resignations of the opposition lawmakers from the lower house of parliament.