Pakistan Democratic Movement leaders reiterate threat of long march on Islamabad, saying caravans will converge on capital by March 30
The opposition’s Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) alliance on Monday nominated former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani as its joint candidate for the post of Senate chairperson during a meeting to chalk out its future strategy to oust the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government.
Gilani would contest the poll, set for March 12, against incumbent Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, who has already been nominated as the candidate of the ruling alliance headed by the PTI.
According to sources, PDM President Maulana Fazlur Rehman informed the meeting—also attended by PMLN’s Nawaz Sharif and PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari via video-link—that the 10-party alliance needed clarity on its anti-government demonstrations. He suggested that protesters stage a sit-in at the entrance of the capital for “a few days” before moving forward. He also reiterated his calls for the opposition to resign from assemblies and focus all their energies on ousting the incumbent government. “Resigning is also a democratic tactic,” he reportedly said.
In a subsequent press conference, Rehman announced that the opposition had decided to commence its long march on Islamabad from March 26. “The long march will begin from March 26. Caravans from every corner of the country will participate,” he said. “We appeal to the entire nation to play their part in ousting this illegal and unconstitutional government,” he said, adding that the PDM caravan would reach the capital by March 30. He clarified that the opposition leadership would meet again on March 15 to discuss the planned demonstration. “More details will be revealed about the march then,” he said.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, meanwhile, suggested that the PDM’s long march might culminate at the Faizabad Interchange, as it is a “place situated both in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.” The opposition leaders also warned the “establishment and the intelligence agencies” against any interference in Senate chairman elections, threatening to “to bring all the facts before the nation” if they received any reports of attempts to manipulate the polls.
Rehman, who also heads the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl), also slammed the harassment of PMLN leaders by PTI supporters outside Parliament House on March 6 when Prime Minister Imran Khan was seeking a fresh vote of confidence in the National Assembly. “The PTI goons attacked the PMLN leaders when they were holding a news conference,” he said, taking special aim at the manhandling of PMLN spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb.
“This is the culture the PTI leaders are inculcating among its workers,” he said, adding that the trust vote obtained by the “fake prime minister” had “no legal, moral and constitutional standing.” Claiming that the National Assembly session had been unconstitutional because Article 91(7) of the Constitution placed such decisions to summon such sessions at the sole discretion of the president.
The PDM president also criticized the government for challenging Gilani’s Senate victory before the Election Commission of Pakistan, claiming it was “foolish” and if the election had been faulty, then Khan would never have needed to secure a fresh vote of confidence.
Bhutto-Zardari, meanwhile, hoped the ECP would continue to operate independently as it had in the by-elections last month. He said the opposition also expected courts to resist any pressure to forcibly oust any candidates from the Senate.
To a question, PMLN Vice President Maryam Nawaz wondered why the PTI had nominated a candidate for the Senate chairman post if it knew it lacked a majority in the Upper House. Echoing the allegations of Prime Minister Imran Khan, she said the government could only hope to win if it used bribes or “agencies” to advance its desires. Noting that the prime minister used to give lengthy lectures on how minority groups could only win in elections through rigging, she wondered why the PTI believed it could win the Senate chairman election in any other way.