In an escalating crackdown, Pakistani police have arrested scores of opposition activists as most major political parties united in marking July 25 as a “black day” to protest what they say were rigged elections on the same day last year.
Prime Minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) political party swept to power last year following a bitterly contested election. The current protests stem from mounting economic pain for Pakistanis and an angry political climate prompted by a crackdown on the opposition and extensive media censorship.
Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said police took away dozens of its activists in the eastern city of Lahore in predawn raids on July 25. Sharif is currently in prison on corruption charges.
"It is a fascist tactic by a government scared of protests," said PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz, Sharif’s daughter and successor.
"Every day in the presence of Imran Khan is a black day," she later told a major opposition gathering in a football stadium in the southwestern city of Quetta.
Nawaz said Pakistanis were denied their right to choose their government in the July 25, 2018, parliamentary election.
“May Allah save Pakistan from such an atrocity again,” she tweeted. “Look at Pakistan from that day onwards. Not only inflation, unemployment and bad governance began but the voices of those speaking against it muzzled,” she wrote in an apparent reference to the extensive censorship being imposed in the country.
Opposition parties accuse Pakistan’s powerful military of orchestrating the election win of the ruling PTI last year. Major opposition rallies were also held in the southern seaport city of Karachi, Peshawar in the northwest, and Lahore, a key PML-N stronghold.
In Karachi, a city of 20 million, thousands of supporters of the Pakistan Peoples Party, a main opposition party, listened to party leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of the murdered former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
"July 25  is a black day in our history because they not only targeted the parliament [through rigged elections] but are aiming at wiping our democracy," he said. "Now they are not only targeting politicians but are aiming at ending all politics."
But the PTI-led government is not deterred.
Firdous Ashiq Awan, a special assistant to Khan, said their party will celebrate July 25 as “Accountability Day.” The PTI maintains that people voted them into office because they were sick of the corruption associated with previous governments led by the PML-N and Pakistan Peoples Party.
But a year into the PTI’s rule, its narrative seems to be losing appeal among Pakistan’s nearly 210 million people. Anger is mounting as Pakistanis struggle with the repercussions of runaway inflation, new taxes, and rising utility prices. Khan’s administration has so far delivered little on its promises of reviving the economy, creating employment, and nurturing transparency. During the past year, the rupee, the Pakistani currency, has lost more than a third of its value against the dollar.
Political parties are not alone in agitating against the government.
On July 16, journalists staged demonstrations across Pakistan to denounce censorship by the country's powerful military and security services. They also opposed layoffs, budget cuts, and months-long delays in paying salaries.
On July 13, most markets and wholesale merchants across Pakistan closed to protest the government’s efforts to clamp down on tax evasion and requirements for business documentation.
-- With reporting by DPA