In Pakistan, opposition protests have gained traction as tens of thousands of people defied restrictions on coronavirus to demand that Prime Minister Imran Khan step down and revive criticism of the role of the military in politics.
On Sunday, in the central city of Lahore, a coalition of 11 opposition parties, known as the Pakistan Democratic Movement, demonstrated at the culmination of the first phase of demonstrations prior to the expected march on the capital of Islamabad in January to pile up pressure on the government of Khan.
Part of the campaign are the parties of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
The opposition cites double-digit inflation, a weak economy, curbs on civil liberties, and media censorship as the reasons for the demonstrations.
Reporting from Islamabad, Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder said the opposition was keen to depict the rally on Sunday as a “referendum” but the government was “determined to remain in power” and not “buckle under pressure.”
“According to some analysts, there are signs that the economy is recovering,” Hyder said, adding that the government characterized the protests as “more of a ploy” to distract from the corruption charges against Sharif.
In 2017, the three-time prime minister was forced by the Supreme Court to step down over charges of corruption and was convicted and sentenced to a jail term a year later, just days before Khan’s general election.
It was expected that Sharif, who blames generals and judges for what he claims were trumped-up charges, will address the Lahore rally via London video connection.
He has accused the army and intelligence chiefs at previous rallies of manipulating the 2018 national elections to block his party from winning a new term.
For his part, by criticizing Pakistan’s powerful military, Khan has accused Sharif of “playing” regional foe “India’s game.”