Lahore   -    Opposition parties yesterday observed 'Black Day' to mark one-year anniversary of 2018 elections, stepping up efforts to mobilise people against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Thousands of opposition supporters rallied in federal and provincial capitals under the banner of the 'joint opposition', reiterating claims that the elections were managed and calling for the demise of PTI-led coalition government.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz held a big show Quetta, besides staging rallies in Lahore and Islamabad. Pakistan Peoples Party held a public meeting in Karachi. Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl arranged a public gathering in Peshawar.

The most vocal of the opposition leaders was PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz, who is leading a campaign to secure release of her father - former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who is serving jail term after his conviction in a corruption case.

"If this fake government, which stole votes to come into power, to give it its final shove, if […] we have to march to Islamabad against them, will Balochistan join us?" she asked at a rally of thousands in Quetta.

Maryam warned the country’s “honourable" unnamed institutions to stop "backing" an “incompetent” prime minister to "avoid conflict" with the masses. The country could never prosper unless the true representatives of the people came into power, she added.

“People of Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab have grievances with you [institutions] so please stop supporting the incompetent prime minister because you are representatives of the people and not of the prime minister,” she said.

She asked the people of Balochistan to support other provinces in removing the incumbent government. During her address to the heavily-charged crowd PML-N supporters chanted slogans ‘Vote ko Izzat do’ [respect the sanctity of the vote].

Maryam said her party was marking ‘Youm-e-Siyah’ [Black Day] as on this day the mandate of the people was stolen and humiliated.

The PML-N leader said the country was facing the worst ever economic crisis because the sanctity of the vote was not upheld. She said her father in 2013 honoured the public decision in Balochistan and KP, and did not interfere in government formation.

Maryam reiterated her demand to declare Sharif’s conviction null and void as accountability court judge [Arshad Malik] has "confessed he convicted him on false charges”.

 Karachi

Addressing a large public gathering at Baghe Ibn-e-Qasim, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that they don’t recognise the "fraud elections, fake government and the selected prime minister".

Our staff reporter Muhammad Sabih reported him saying that 25th July was a black day in the country’s history as a "selected government was imposed" on the nation exactly a year ago.

The PPP leader said the selected government had made the peoples’ lives miserable through "inflation bomb" and defamed the country at international level through its wrong policies.

“What sort of elections were that in which the political parties were split, the defectors were gathered at one platform and the weight of the [military] boot put on them,” the PPP chairman said.

Bilawal said that Army personnel were deployed inside the polling stations despite reservations of many political parties, RTS system got collapsed, results of main constituencies were withheld and Karachi’s mandate was stolen from Lyari to Nine-Zero.

He added that polling agents were ousted from the polling stations, and independent candidates picked up by Jahangir Tareen through his airplane, yet the election doctors failed to get the desired results.

He said that despite all their reservations his party not only itself became part of the parliament for the sake of the system but also made other opposition parties not to boycott the parliament in protest. It was because of their efforts and sacrifices that the institution of parliament is still intact, he added.

Calling Imran Khan just a stooge, Bilawal said the dummy rulers will continue to do what "Umpires" order them to do. He said the prime minister's grip on power is so weak that he cannot even appoint or remove his ministers and make budget of his choice.

The PPP chairman said that every Pakistani was hit hard by the federal government’s policies, adding that the country was going through an unprecedented economic crisis.

The anti-people "PTI-IMF budget" was crushing the citizens and the provinces were getting bankrupt due to the incompetence of the central government, Bilawal said.

“Imran himself sought six months to deliver but we gave him a full year. Imran is not capable enough to be the Prime Minister of Pakistan,” he said, adding that the time was up now.

Bilawal said their struggle to dethrone PTI would continue till its logical conclusion and in the next phase, they would be electing Mir Hasil Buzinjo as the Senate chairman.

He was of the view that his father Asif Ali Zardari and PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif should have been there at the Bagh-e-Jinnah to address the people but that was not to be "as we are facing the worst kind of dictatorship".

“We have gone through dictatorships of General Ziaul Huq and General Pervaiz Musharraf, but the current system is even worse than that of theirs," he added.

Starting from his own grandfather late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, he paid tribute to a number of past leaders for their struggle for democracy and services to the nation.

About joining hands with other opposition parties, he said they all had their own manifestos and political agendas as well as strong political differences but they have got united only because the democracy was in danger. Also, he said, "The country is facing multiple challenges and no political party could meet those alone."

The PPP leader alleged that the Centre was carrying out injustice with provinces by keeping their funds. “The federal government still owes Rs40 billion to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Rs116 billion to Sindh and Rs240 billion to Punjab,” he said.

Addressing the rally, former National Assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq said Prime Minister Imran Khan should be tried under Article 6 for the statement he issued during his US visit.

“Imran admitted there that Pakistan’s intelligence services were aware of Usama Bin Ladin’s presence" in Pakistan, which is tantamount to charge sheeting Pakistan, he said.

Ayaz said former President Asif Ali Zardari was being targeted for devolving powers at the grassroots level through the 18th Constitutional Amendment and giving all presidential powers to the Parliament, and Nawaz Sharif was being targeted for making Pakistan a nuclear state and for ending electricity shortage in the country.

He said the establishment and the PTI government were afraid of the PML-N and PPP leadership and that was why their speeches are blacked out on the mainstream media.

The PPP and PML-N may have political differences but they are one to confront the dictatorships. "Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif had signed Charter of Democracy against the dictatorship of General Pervaiz Musharraf and now we are united against the dictatorship of Niazi,” he said.

 Peshawar

Chief of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Fazlur Rahman said that opposition will not give any NRO to Senate chairman and Prime Minister Imran Khan.

“We will give tough time to the prime minister and lock down Islamabad during our next public gathering,” he told a protest rally.

Our staffer Nader Buneri reported him as saying that President Trump did not receive PM Imran Khan; rather, he preferred receiving Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa - suggesting indirectly that it was army chief who wielded real power.

Fazl said that Imran Khan was not familiar with diplomatic norms and he never succeeded in winning Pakistan's case at international level.

He also criticised the PTI government for poor economic policies and high ratio of inflation. He said that due to flawed policies of the government the poor even could not afford to manage two time meal.

The religio-political party leader claimed that PTI rally in Washington was arranged under the patronage of Ahmadis. Making yet another inflammatory and groundless claim, he said the PM told Ahmadis community there that they were facing a common enemy, and that was the reason that Imran insulted him (Fazl) in the public gathering.

He also rejected the notion that minorities were not secure in Pakistan, calling it a "western propaganda".

Fazl rejected the proposal of securing Dr Afia Siddiqui's release in exchange of Shakeel Afridi, claiming that Afia was an innocent woman while Afridi was a traitor. He added that when Afia returns, she would "confess" that she was handed over to Americans by Pakistan and not by the Afghanistan government.

 LAHORE

PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif has accused the rulers of using NAB for political victimization, saying such tactics would fail to silence the opposition on issues of public importance.

Addressing a rally at Faisal Chowk on Thursday, he said that Prime Minister Imran Khan has given NRO to his sister Aleema Khan, reported The Nation staffer Iqtidar Gilani.

Terming the PM biggest liar, he said Imran would be made accountable for his wrongdoings and massive inflation in the country. He claimed that "nan (bread)" being sold at Rs20 now was available at Rs10 during Nawaz Sharif regime. He also presented a comparison between the prices of bread during the tenure of the PML-N and the incumbent government.

Shehbaz, who is also Opposition Leader in the National Assembly, said that people were getting free medicine at public sector hospitals which now a days was a dream. He claimed that Imran government was installed through massively rigged election last year.

"From Chitral to Karachi, votes were counted in the absence of polling agents," he claimed. He raised the question that why Nawaz Sharif, Khawaja Brothers, Hamza and Rana Sanaullah were in jails. Himself answering, he said it was due to the public service they had done.

He said that development of infrastructure and Metro Bus were achievements of past regime. He said that Nawaz Sharif would rebuild and make Pakistan a prosperous and developed country.

Referring to the allegation of corruption by the PM against opposition leadership, Shehbaz Sharif said that more than half of the federal cabinet was corrupt.

“Imran Niazi, I will continue to fight against you till my last breath. Sea of people will drown you (PM)," he added.

PPP Punjab president Qamar Zaman Kaira said the huge participation of masses in black day rallies despite tough restrictions, media blackout and police crackdown proved that people of Pakistan had rejected Imran Khan. He said the message was clear; “Now either you or we would survive”.

Rejecting Imran Khan’s claim that opposition wanted to dislodge the government, he said if it had been the goal, opposition could have killed the assemblies before their opening session when Fazlur Rehman floated the idea of staying away from assemblies.

He said Shehbaz had offered Imran to strike a charter of economy, on the pattern of charter of democracy, which was the most sacred national document after the constitution.

Kaira reminded that PPP chairperson Bilawal had also offered cooperation for elimination of terrorism, poverty and injustice, but Imran knew nothing except abusing political opponents.

He said US presidents in the past had been receiving Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto, Yousaf Raza Gilani and President Zardari with more honor than given to Imran.

JUI-F leader Maulana Amjad Khan said opposition leaders had given a clear message to Imran Khan that people of Pakistan could not allow Qadiyanis and US agenda in the country. He warned that not a single article of constitution would be allowed to be changed.

Workers of opposition parties started arriving Faisal Chowk in the evening. Inordinate delay in the arrival of top leadership of mainstream political parties caused the workers to leave the venue in groups. Till at 10pm, five hours behind the scheduled time, the attendance was thin as the workers continued arriving and leaving the venue.

Though party flags of all opposition parties including the PPP, JUI-F, ANP and Jamiat Ahle Hadith were visible at the venue, PML-N dominated the rally.

The attendance was pathetic till at 10:30. Arrival of Shehbaz Sharif and Qamar Zaman Kaira with appreciable number of workers carrying party flags in separate rallies considerably increased the attendance. The venue echoed with slogans of ‘Go Niazi Go’, ‘Vote Ko Izzat Do’, ‘Vote Chor’ and ‘Sher Aya’ on the arrival of leadership of mainstream parties at around 11pm.

The opposition show got a setback as Shehbaz left the venue after delivering his speech, causing PML-N workers to follow their leader. PML-N workers continued leaving during the five minute long speech of JUI-F leader Amjad Khan. Only PPP workers were left at the venue during the speech of Qamar Zaman Kaira.

 Islamabad

In the federal capital, local leaders and workers of the PML-N carried out a protest rally in front of the National Press Club. The participants included local leaders of the JUI-F and PkMAP who chanted slogans against Prime Minister Khan and his government.

Addressing the rally, PkMAP Islamabad president Abdul Qayyum Achakzai said the PTI government had promised "change" [for the better] but imposed taxes worth Rs750 billion after coming into power.

He claimed that supporters of his party were unable to join the opposition rally in Balochistan because roads across the province had been blocked. "We strongly condemn it," he added.