On Tuesday, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) – the grand oppositional alliance against the Imran Khan-led PTI government – staged a rally outside the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) against the delay in proceedings of Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf’s (PTI) foreign funding case.
The protest marks the first activity of the opposition alliance in Islamabad, after a round of rallies and protests all around the country. This stage of power also comes after a few weeks of inactivity and political challenges for the alliance, most notably the internal disagreements and subsequent change of strategy regarding the plan to resign from all legislative assemblies.
The rally was attended by the President of PDM Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman, the PMLN Vice President Maryam Nawaz, PPP Senator Sherry Rehman, former PPP Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai. The rally was announced on Monday by the PDM president.
The opposition is protesting against the lack of progress on the case against the PTI which alleges that the accounts of the PTI have massive irregularities and that it has been receiving funds from foreign entities, which is illegal for political parties in Pakistan under the Article 6 (b) of the Political Parties Order of 2002. Interestingly, the case was filed by Akbar S Babar, an estranged founding member of the PTI, on November 14, 2014.
The ECP was instructed to probe the party’s accounts and funcding by the Supreme Court; as of now, the commission has held 70 hearings but no verdict has been given. The PTI has changed its lawyers eitgh times and requested an adjournment in the case 30 times. In March 2018, a scrutiny committee was formed to give its report on the case in one month. The commission held 80 sessions but it failed to submit a report.
Prior to the rally, PDM leaders gathered at the house of the PDM President, Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman, where they held a discussion on the arrangements for the protest and the security situation. Capt (rtd) Mohammad Safdar and Khurram Dastagir also participated in the discussion.
Different opposition parties led their rallies and gathered at Kashmir Chowk. Smaller rallies from the twin-cities joined the main rally at Serena Hotel Chowk and were led by the PDM leaders to the ECP headquarters.
The PTI government allowed the opposition to stage a protest outside the ECP office. The Interior Minister, Sheikh Rasheed, commented that this was the first time the government was allowing such a protest on the Constitution Avenue, which comes within the Red-Zone of Islamabad. However, the Interior Minister also warned that no one would be allowed to take the law into their own hands, and the government will make sure that the Parliament House, Supreme Court and other state institutions would be protected. “I hope the Opposition parties hold a peaceful protest,” he said.
According to reports, security around the ECP headquarters was increased by the government; two platoons of Punjab Rangers were deployed in addition to police personnel. The ECP building was sealed off with concrete blocks, and the main entrance was blocked with barbed wire. Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed was personally reviewing the security and monitored the situation from the Control Room.
Opposition’s show of power
While delivering a speech to the protestors outside the ECP, Maryam Nawaz said that the opposition has congregated outside the ECP office to “remind it of its constitutional responsibilities.” She further added that the election commission is a constitutional institution and it belongs to all Pakistanis. “You have been given the responsibility to give respect to people’s votes.”
The PML-N leader further alleged that the foreign funding received by the PTI came from India and Israel, saying that it came through hundi (illegal international money transfer) into the accounts of Imran Khan’s personal employees.
Referring to Imran Khan’s recent comments on the issue in an interview, Maryam Nawaz said that the PDM had shaken the PM and he said he didn’t know all the things as the party’s financial matters were being handled by his agents. “The ECP will have to answer. Imran Khan has confessed to his crime and when someone confesses to their crime… they are punished,” she said targetting the ECP for its delay on deciding the matter.
Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman said while speaking at the rally that the PTI has deliberately stalled the case and the ECP should deliver justice.
“The assets hidden by the party which calls itself the ruling party, the foreign funding case against it, six years have passed and around 150 hearings have been held but the government is delaying it by constantly filing requests. They have not declared their documents and hidden assets, they are still trying to hide them,” he said, referring to the ruling party.
Awami National Party’s Mian Iftikhar Hussain said that the PDM will lead a peaceful protest and end it before nightfall, “we will protest peacefully and won’t attack the PTV building unlike Imran Khan and his followers.”
History of ECP Protests
Contrary to what the Interior Minister has claimed, the ECP is a rather popular site for protests in Pakistani politics. The ruling PTI itself has staged several protests against the ECP. During its 2014 Tsunami March, the PTI had protested every Friday against the ECP.
In August 2018, the PML-N, PPP, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and other opposition parties, protested outside the ECP offices against the irregularities in the 2018 elections and the breakdown of the Result Transmission System (RTS), which they alleged benefited PTI.