PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah on Thursday declared the incumbent government as “more dangerous than Covid-19” and warned against stopping people from attending the Pakistan Democratic Movement rally on the pretext of measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“I want to tell you that Covid-18 is more dangerous than Covid-19,” Sanaullah said, referring to the government that was elected in the 2018 general elections. “Covid-18 has damaged our country much more than the coronavirus.”
He was addressing a press conference in Gujranwala, where the opposition alliance PDM — of which PML-N is a member — is set to hold its first public meeting tomorrow.
The PML-N stalwart said the opposition had chosen to take a stand against the government in a “peaceful and democratic way”. He added that the government had “decided to act sanely” but warned against “pushing people towards violence”.
“Tomorrow, if we receive any report that anyone was stopped from coming to attend the rally, if there is any disturbance, then the Punjab government, as well as those sitting in Bani Gala, will be pushing people towards violence and if that happens, you (government) will be responsible,” Sanaullah said.
He assured that the PDM’s public gathering would remain peaceful.
He went on to say that over the past eight months, no police complaints were lodged for violations of standard operating procedures (SOPs) laid out to curb the novel coronavirus, but the government was now threatening to arrest people for violating them.
“This is so they can arrest anyone they want saying that they were violating SOPs,” the PML-N leader said.
The Punjab government has granted the opposition permission to hold its public gathering, with terms and conditions. A notification issued by Gujranwala Deputy Commissioner Sohail Ashraf, dated October 15, said no participant would be allowed to enter the site of the rally without a mask and everyone would be seated at a distance of three to six feet from each other.
It further stated that police can check any vehicle parked at the rally for security purposes. “The organisers will ensure discipline at the venue and cooperate with law enforcement agencies for the maintenance of public order.”
The notification also said no person belonging to a proscribed organisation, or who has been convicted, would be allowed to participate in the rally or address the public.
Sanaullah, while speaking to media today, also addressed remarks by Information Minister Shibli Faraz who challenged the PDM to gather enough people to fill Jinnah Bagh, where the public meeting is to be held. The challenge was accepted by Sanaullah, who said that he has “left it up to Shibli to decide” which side had won.
Shibli had released a video message challenging the opposition to gather enough people to fill up the venue, while announcing that permission for the public meeting had been granted, Radio Pakistan reported today.
Sanaullah, in his press conference today, told reporters that during PML-N’s tenure, the PTI had held many rallies without the administration’s consent but there were no cases against the party.
The PML-N lawmaker explained that the opposition alliance wanted “free and fair elections” and respect for the votes cast and not pre-poll rigging.
“We believe that 2018’s elections were rigged. Pre-poll rigging was done, people were made to switch parties and join the king’s party,” he accused.
Separately, PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said that while he was on his way to Gujranwala to attend PDM’s public gathering, he had received reports that arrest warrants against his father Asif Ali Zardari — who was admitted to a Karachi hospital on Monday night — had been issued by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
“These tactics are not new for PPP and nothing will deter us now. Go selected,” he said in a tweet.
The opposition has repeatedly accused the government of targeting politicians from opposing parties. According to opposition parties, cases are lodged against their members at the government’s behest, which wants to quash dissenting voices.
‘Govt has failed’
Earlier today, PML-N vice president Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also spoke to the media where he said that the government was busy in leveling false allegations against the opposition, instead of focusing on the masses’ issues.
“Today, every person in the country is anxious. This government has failed. Today, the country’s economy has been ruined due to the ineligibility and corruption of this government,” Abbasi lamented.
He insisted that his party had “always respected the parliament” and criticised the “attitude” of the National Assembly speaker, who had summoned a session on October 16, when the opposition had planned a rally.
“This behaviour by the speaker reflects that these people want to paralyse the parliament. They don’t want the voices of Pakistan’s masses to be heard in the parliament,” Abbasi said. He accused the government of trying to reduce the timings of the planned rally.
What is PDM?
PDM is an alliance of 11 political parties, formed after the opposition’s multiparty conference on September 20, that seeks the government’s ouster by launching a three-phased anti-government movement under an “action plan” starting from this month with countrywide public meetings, protest demonstrations and rallies in December and a “decisive long march” towards Islamabad in January 2021.
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman is the first president of the PDM while Raja Pervez Ashraf of the PPP is the senior vice-president and PML-N’s Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is its secretary general.
‘Gang of dacoits’
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Imran Khan had directed authorities to allow PDM alliance to hold its public meeting, saying that people would judge for themselves how ‘strong’ the opposition was.
Talking to Dawn on condition of anonymity, a participant of the meeting said: “The prime minister was of the view that the opposition be allowed to hold its public meeting as it (opposition) will expose itself by doing so.”
The source said Prime Minister Khan termed the joint opposition “a gang of dacoits”, which was starting an anti-government campaign just to hide its corruption, adding that the public would see the opposition’s “show of power” itself.