PDM rally in Gujranwala attracts a crowd on 16th October, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: AFP

The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), the 11-party opposition alliance, is all set to proceed with its rally in Multan today despite government warnings against non-adherence to COVID-19 SOPs. The rally, previously slated to be led by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, is now to be headed by Aseefa Bhutto Zardari on account of the former having contracted the novel coronavirus and being in isolation.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, alongside his political secretary Jameel Soomro, is thought to have contracted the virus after attending the PDM’s fourth power-show in Peshawar on 22nd November. Following that, it was revealed to media sources that all staffers at the Bilawal House had to undergo COVID-19 testing before entering the premises. Earlier, the invitation cards on for Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari’s engagement ceremony had also come into scrutiny for requiring COVID-19 negative documentation by all guests.

The contrast displayed by the opposition regarding coronavirus SOPs between personal affairs and political rallies has been pointed out by the government and other critics. In a thread of tweets posted on Sunday, Prime Minister Imran Khan accused the opposition of “not having any concern for the lives of ordinary citizens.”

“Problem confronting us in Pak during COVID 19 is of a political leadership that has never gone through any democratic struggle, nor worked with ordinary citizens to understand the problems they confront, nor contributed in any substantive way for betterment of ordinary citizens,” the Prime Minister tweeted.

He went on to state that the opposition’s disregard for the well-being of the public is rooted in selfishness and hypocrisy, with the “sole and desperate” objective of obtaining an NRO.

“Not only do these “leaders” lack any empathy with the masses, their families looted national wealth to further impoverish our masses. These entitled “leaders” living like royalty in their secluded mansions, have simply inherited their positions because of their families,” said the Prime Minister.

He further pointed out the hypocrisy of the opposition for demanding a strict lockdown during the first wave of the coronavirus, at the expense of the livelihood of citizens, yet denouncing the government recommended COVID-19 guidelines at the time of a spike in coronavirus cases.

“When we did smart lockdown to save our poor from becoming destitute & save economy from total collapse, these “leaders” opposed & demanded complete lockdown,” the PM tweeted.

“Now, with new spike, when we again need smart lockdown, they want jalsas not caring for the lives & safety of people.”

Despite the government’s explicit disapproval of the opposition rallies, which have so far drawn sizeable crowds, the PDM has expressed its unwavering commitment to proceeding with its rallying schedule.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, on Sunday, issued a statement saying that the government is using intimidation tactics to supress the opposition. The arrests of some PPP supporters prior to the rally is being cited by the opposition as a sign of dictatorship.

“PPP has fought against dictators for five decades and defeated them with the unflinching support of people. It is now selected and puppets’ turn to taste defeat and forever be buried in the political graveyard of their predecessors,” he said.

Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, spokesperson for Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, also reiterated the message.

“A government’s fear of a few Jalsas is enough proof of its weakness. Now the fate of the government has been decided as the Pakistan Democratic Movement workers are arriving in Multan in great numbers. The PDM jalsa on PPP’s founding day will be held in Multan at any cost,” he maintained.

Opposition political leaders, including Pakistan Muslim League (PML) – N vice president Maryam Nawaz, have left for the rally venue in Multan and are expected to welcome large crowds of supporters in what will be PDM’s fifth big power-show.

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, with political leadership itself having contracted the virus, it is likely that the rally will contribute to further spread of the virus. The opposition leaders’ requests to their followers to “wear masks” appears insufficient to contain the risks of the virus, especially considering the precedent set by the previous PDM rallies where little to no social distancing was practised.


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