Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called for a “change in system” and “revolution” as he ended a four-day procession from the country’s capital Islamabad to Lahore- capital of Punjab, the country’s largest province — and his party PML-N’s bastion of political power.
Addressing thousands of supporters in his party’s main stronghold on Saturday, Sharif criticized the Supreme Court for his ouster in Panamagate case, saying he would “not sit at home now” and would “change the fate of the country”.
“Nobody has accepted this verdict. I will not sit in peace and accept it, and neither will you…you made me a prime minister, and five people — five people — disqualified me,” the deposed prime minister said.
“Tell me, is their verdict acceptable to you?” he asked.
“I have come to you after four days on the road. Everyone in Pakistan is protesting Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification,” he told his supporters.
Turning his guns on the Supreme Court judges who deemed him unfit to hold public office unanimously, he said: “Those who disqualified Nawaz Sharif, are they themselves qualified [to make that decision]?”
His non-acceptance of the court verdict following removal last month for concealing assets has plunged the nuclear-armed nation and host to China’s upcoming trade and energy corridor CPEC into political uncertainty, with “possibility of early poll this year” — veteran analyst and Capital TV anchor Murtaza Solangi tweeted.
On Wednesday, Sharif set off on a 370km journey in an armoured vehicle, in a display of street power against the court judgment.
Thousands of his supporters came to catch a glimpse of the former prime minister as his convoy rolled down the Grand Trunk Road, a more than 2,000-year-old trade route which leads from Chittagong in Bangladesh across India and Pakistan to the Afghan capital Kabul.
Speaking at the famous Data Darbar, a well-known Sufi shrine, Sharif said that across his journey he saw citizens had not accepted his disqualification. He asked his supporters to await his next move, without elaborating.
Citing his accomplishments, Sharif asked why a prime minister was disqualified when he was moving the country toward progress.
“This country belongs to 200 million people and not the few who ousted me, disrespecting your vote.”
“Who are those people who have disqualified me? Are they themselves qualified?” he asked the crowd.
The rally in Lahore is expected to galvanize Sharif’s political base ahead of what he had earlier promised was the start of a “grand debate” on the establishment’s role in the running of the country.
On Saturday in Lahore he called for “revolution”. “Will you stand with me as we bring a revolution to Pakistan? It is August 14 day after tomorrow: remember the sacrifices of the people who made Pakistan. We have to honor their sacrifices. They must be rolling in their graves at what we have done with this country,” he said.
“The passion and spirit I’m seeing is a harbinger of a revolution!” he said. “If this revolution does not arrive, nothing will change. If this revolution does not happen, we will become the worst nation in the region.”
“No other country has experienced upheavals in its democratic process like we have,” he claimed.
“Who are these people who have disrupted our progress? Do you not think that they should be held responsible?
“The people who’ve played with Pakistan for the last 70 years — don’t you all think that they should be held accountable?” he asked his supporters.
“You will have to take a brave stand against these people!” he urged.
“This country has already been a victim of a grave accident in 1971 — I hope that something similar never happens again,” he said, recalling the secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan after a political falling-out over which wing of the country would install a prime minister.
Several observers weighed in on Sharif’s ‘homecoming’ rally and his riling up of Lahore crowd.
Talking to DawnNews, PPP Senator Sherry Rehman rejected PML-N’s narrative that Nawaz Sharif’s ouster poses a threat to democracy and therefore, PPP has not joined the ruling party’s rally.
“We (PPP) have been called friendly opposition in the past because we stood with the government to protect democracy at the time of the [PTI’s] sit-ins. But democracy is not related to Nawaz Sharif’s personality and it is not under any threat,” she said.
Speaking on Nawaz’s rally, Journalist Iftikhar Shirazi said that the former premier should have emphasized on reaching a national consensus instead of taking to the roads.
“The narrative Nawaz Sharif is trying to develop [by this power show] is not the best way to tackle this issue. He is trying to take things towards institutional collision,” he said. adding that Parliament was the best forum to address this issue, which he [Sharif] did not respect.
Analyst and the DawnNews anchor Meher Abbasi views the rally as a “three-pronged model with Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in the center, Shahbaz Sharif in Punjab and Nawaz Sharif reaching out to the public”, that benefits PML-N.
Abbasi said that the rally is Sharif’s “campaign for relevancy”. “I am shocked by the talk of revolution, because even if you want peaceful revolution, it is against a sitting government,” she noted.
“But the government is your own. What do you want?” she asked. “This is a [show of] no confidence for the cabinet you have yourself chosen.”
Veteran journalist and analyst Nusrat Javed said, “The process of ‘getting’ Nawaz will get quicker and he may have to see jail,” Javed feared, “and a petition could be moved to not air his speeches live since he is committing contempt [of court].”
Sharif has a rocky history with the country’s establishment, which has ruled Pakistan for about half of its 70-year history.
He served three separate stints as premier but never completed a full term in office.
Within days of his ouster, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) nominated Shahid Khaqan Abbasi – a former US-educated oil minister – as a new prime minister, with the National Assembly rubber-stamping the choice.
On Friday it was announced that Sharif’s wife, Kalsoom Nawaz, would contest the vacant parliamentary seat due for poll in mid-September.