Pakistan: Opposition starts anti-gov’t march towards Islamabad

PM expected to face no-confidence vote in parliament this week; ruling PTI party has organised pro-gov’t march on Sunday.

Tens of thousands of people have started marching to the Pakistani capital in a show of opposition to Prime Minister Imran Khan who is expected to face a vote of no confidence next week.

Supporters from the party of former PM Nawaz Sharif began their “long march” on Saturday in the eastern city of Lahore, the political bastion of Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party.

“Prime Minister will resign before we reach Islamabad,” Maryam Nawaz, Sharif’s daughter and political heir, told the crowd before the march began.

Thousands of PML-N supporters in different towns in Punjab are preparing to join the march which is to cover some 300km (186 miles).

PML-N is not the only party heading to the capital to put pressure on Khan. Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, head of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam
(F) party, is also marching on the capital, accompanied by thousands of workers.

Meanwhile, to counter these demonstrations, Khan also called on workers to rally in Islamabad on Sunday in a show of support.

In preparation for these marches and in anticipation of clashes, riot police have been deployed in the capital, where major roads have been blocked by shipping containers.

On Saturday, Pakistan’s interior minister Sheikh Rashid said he had advised Khan to call early elections after the federal budget for the fiscal year is presented.

“I’m asking for early elections after presenting a good budget because this incompetent opposition has allowed us to win again,” Rashid said, stressing that this was his own opinion and not of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

Khan is expected to face a vote of no-confidence in a move sponsored by an alliance of opposition groups.

The move to remove Khan is led by the main opposition parties, the PMLN and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

Khan, who came to power on a platform of anti-corruption and other political reforms in Pakistan, has denounced the opposition as a “gang of thieves” in vitriolic public addresses, and has promised to defeat the no-confidence vote.

Taking a cue from Khan, ruling party members have bluntly attacked the timing and motives of the opposition.

“This is all just to save themselves,” Andleeb Abbas, the PTI parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, told Al Jazeera, referring to the Sharif brothers who lead the PML-N and former President Asif Zardari, who heads the PPP.

“They know Prime Minister Khan is not going to forgive their corruption and that the accountability net is tightening around them.”

The opposition is likely to table the motion on Monday. Voting can then take place after at least three days of debate and must be held within seven days.

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