The one-year anniversary of PTI’s ascendance to power will finally entail the opposition playing its hand and start its series of announced joint opposition demonstrations and protests around the country. Having already been alluded to by many of the allied parties for months, Thursday’s contact campaigns in all provincial capitals – with a protest earmarked for the federal capital – will mark the first step in the opposition’s plan to take to the streets against the policies of the government.

The campaign on Thursday is designed to feature the complete gamut of leaders from the opposition benches.

The leaders speaking across the country feature from various political parties from the opposition alliance, but obviously the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) with Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) will take the lead in the rallies organised. Opposition parties have divided their members and organised the campaigns in such a way where leaders of more than one party are in attendance in various cities, which will maximise the numbers of those in attendance.

Thursday is the opposition’s first real test outside of parliament, and the attendance numbers will help in identifying the level of support enjoyed by the parties across the country. With leaders such as Shehbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari leading the rallies in Lahore and Karachi – with the added benefit of the cities being historic centres of power for the two parties – attracting a large crowd might not be too difficult. However, Quetta and Peshawar will be more tricky, given that PTI has now won in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for two successive terms and neither opposition party has managed to really gain a foothold in Balochistan. The protest in Islamabad will also be telling; can the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq draw in the numbers necessary for a strong showing?

The opposition’s day of campaigning is also incidentally the government’s day of celebration; it is hoped however, that the government will not mar the proceedings of the day with a heavy-handed treatment of opposition leaders and those in attendance at the gatherings organised. The government should not be looking to hinder these public meetings by the opposition; they are well within their rights to exercise their freedom of speech, and PTI’s own time on the roads in protest should remind it of the importance of the government not looking to curtail the freedoms of those in opposition. With claims of a politically motivated accountability drive and statements of opposition leaders removed from the media, the government has already been accused of looking to repress the opposition with anti-democratic tactics. It is hoped that on this occasion it will choose a non-confrontational route.