Opposition forges ‘rare’ unity over Panama-specific sit-in

LAHORE: All 2014 dharna (sit-in) players have again marshaled their troops to give one ‘last try’ to pressure Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to step down this time on the issue of Panama Leaks. With one difference: they have the protest expert on their side.

Last time in 2014 they were demanding Prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation over alleged rigging in 2013 polls. However, this time these players – Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, Dr Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), Chaudhry Shujaat’s Pakistan Mulsim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and Sheikh Rashid’s Awami Muslim League (AML) – have not set the premier’s resignation their ‘ultimate target’.

PTI, which is the main player among the other alliance parties, declares it will be happy if an ‘independent’ judicial commission is formed that starts its probe from Nawaz Sharif for his children’s off-shore holdings revealed in Panama Papers in the wake of its Lahore’ big’ show on Saturday (tomorrow).

PM’s resignation not ultimate target; PTI is content with judicial probe

This time the four-party (PTI, PAT, PML-Q and AML) alliance also gets the support of the PPP as its chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has given a go-ahead to its party men in Lahore to participate in the rally being held to press Mr Sharif to resign over Panamagate. It is also the first time the PTI and PPP are joining hands together against a ‘common cause’.

“This time Nawaz Sharif will not get away from investigation into assets he and his family members have collected abroad illegally. Panamagate will forever haunt the premier. He will have to answer. He has lost moral ground to rule and it is time he should better step down and let an independent judicial commission probe the whole affair of Pananama Leaks,” PTI Secretary General Jehangir Tareen said on Thursday.

Mr Tareen said if the PML-N thought that the issue of Panama Leaks would die down with time, it was seriously mistaken. “This is a series of protest rallies by the opposition. Saturday’s Lahore rally will be very significant putting immense pressure on the premier to either resign or form a judicial commission,” he said, adding the resignation of Mr Sharif as the target of these rallies. But, we are quite optimistic that he will succumb to the pressure and resign eventually.”

To a question about march on the Sharifs’ residence of Jati Umra in Lahore, Jehangir Tareen said: “One day will march on the Jati Umra Raiwind (if our legitimate demands are not met on Panamagate).”

On the other hand on the direction of Mr Bhutto-Zardari, former Punjab president of PPP Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo held a meeting with workers here on Thursday to make preparation for Saturday’s PTI-led rally.

“The party chairman has asked me and PPP Secretary-General Sardar Latif Khosa to lead a party delegation in the Lahore rally which is aimed at pressing the prime minister to form a judicial commission to probe the Panamagate,” Mr Wattoo told Media. “It will not be easy for the premier to ignore the protest of strong opposition over Panamagate therefore he has only one choice – accept the opposition ToR and present himself for accountability – otherwise with every passing day pressure on him to resign will mount,” Wattoo said.

Replying to a question as why the PPP chose this time to side with Imran Khan, Mr Wattoo said: “During 2014 sit-in it was widely perceived that there was a threat to democracy. On this ground we had turned down PTI’s request to join the sit-in. Now it is essential for democracy that those at the helm of the affairs should not be corrupt. The ruling elite including Nawaz Sharif must present themselves for accountability as their corruption has completely been exposed.”

The PML-Q leadership that is considered close to the establishment on Thursday held a meeting with party men and directed them to fully participate in the Saturday rally to make it a ‘successful show’ . “We are going to play an active role in the prevailing circumstances as all opposition parties are united over Panama Leaks,” Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi said.

Ruling PML-N says the opposition alliance’s ‘Saturday show’ will not be impressive as it especially the PTI is fast losing public support because of its protest politics. “The PTI and other opposition parties will fail this time too like that of 2014,” PML-N Lahore President MNA Pervaiz Malik told media.

He said the PTI instead of taking to streets should better show its strength in election. “PML-N yesterday won both by-polls in Jhelum and Vehrai showing its popularity graph. People will not allow it (opposition) to do politics on Panama Papers,” Mr Malik said.