Supporters of Pakistan opposition parties converged on a stadium in the city of Gujwanwala yesterday to begin a countrywide protest campaign to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan, who they accuse of being “installed” by the military in a “rigged” 2018 election.
Nine major opposition parties formed a joint platform called the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) last month to begin a nationwide agitation against the government.
Khan, who came to power on an anti-graft platform and denies the army helped him win, said yesterday that he was not afraid of the opposition’s campaign, which he said is aimed at blackmailing him to drop corruption cases against their leaders.
“We have come out for the supremacy of the law,” said Maryam Nawaz, the daughter and political heir of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, speaking from atop an SUV that was showered with rose petals as she left for Gujwanwala from nearby Lahore. “Our struggle is against injustice, unemployment and all-time price hikes.”
Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) is the main opposition party.
Sharif, a long-standing critic of the military, was sacked by the Supreme Court in 2017 on corruption charges and left for London last November for medical treatment.
He blames generals and judges for what he says were trumped-up charges.
Pakistan’s powerful military has repeatedly denied meddling in politics.
The protest campaign comes at a time when Pakistan is experiencing an economic crisis, with inflation touching double digits and negative growth.
The next general election is scheduled for 2023.
“Go Imran go. Your time is up!” shouted tens of thousands of the opposition supporters gathered at the Gujwanwala stadium hours before the leaders arrived.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who heads her Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and a religious leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, were leading separate rallies to join the main gathering.
“The time has come for the ‘puppet’ government to go,” said Bilawal.
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