PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Three major political parties observed a strike and held protests across a northwestern Pakistani province over disputed municipal elections marked by violence and irregularities.
The Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and Jamiat-e Ulema-e Islam (JUI) are calling on the Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) or Justice Party-led government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to step down over the controversial vote on May 30.
The June 10 protests mark a turnaround for the PTI. The party spent most of last year protesting what it termed massive irregularities in the 2013 parliamentary elections.
Imran Khan, a former cricketing icon and PTI leader, camped outside the country's national parliament for nearly five months to force Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign.
His party is now on the receiving end of election protests in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the electorate is said to be disappointed with the PTI's failure to fulfill its lofty pre-election promises.
The party stood out by vowing to rid the country's massive government machinery of corruption and deliver peace, jobs, and prosperity to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's residents, who have been haunted by years of insecurity and economic decline.
Opposition politicians are now asking the PTI to resign by invoking some of the same rhetoric its leaders used to criticize governments and claim a higher moral ground.
"Imran Khan now has a chance to act. He used to say that if he were ever accused of election fraud he would immediately step down," ANP leader Saqibullah Khan Chamkani told Radio Mashaal. "I have never seen such a huge discrepancy between the acts and statements of any politician in Pakistan."
In provincial capital Peshawar, another ANP leader, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, told supporters the protests would continue until the provincial administration resigns.
"This is the first step. We will not rest until the provincial government resigns," he said to a crowd of cheering supporters. "This first step has shaken the government; they will not survive until our next steps."
He accused the government of pressuring traders not to honor the opposition's strike call. "We strongly condemn the way [government officials] threatened traders last night and this the morning through police," he said. "They are playing a double game here. On the one hand, they were pleading with us to postpone our protests, while at the same time they have been hitting the traders hard."
Radio Mashaal correspondents report that the strike was partially observed in most major cities and towns across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while supporters of the three political parties held demonstrations and sit-ins in front of government offices.
PTI leaders have offered to investigate election irregularities. Khan has even offered a hold a re-vote should all political parties in the province and the country's election commission agree.
On June 9, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's chief minister Pervez Khattak, the most senior elected provincial official, offered a judicial probe into election-rigging.
For now, however, there is no end in sight to the backlash over messy local elections. The three opposition parties have vowed to continue their protests until the PTI government steps down.
Shabbir Jan contributed reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan.