ISLAMABAD (AP) — Thousands of supporters of Pakistan’s key opposition party held a major anti-government rally in the capital of Islamabad on Tuesday, demanding Prime Minister Imran Khan step down over his alleged failure to improve the country’s economy.
The protesters first assembled in the eastern city of Lahore on Sunday and took to the road. On Tuesday they set out around noon in hundreds of cars, trucks and buses from Rawat, a town in Punjab province, reaching Islamabad’s outskirts hours later.
The convoy halted along the road, waiting for other convoys from elsewhere in Pakistan to join them, before entering the capital in the evening. The demonstration was held near the parliament building amid tight security.
Top leaders of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party addressed the rally and vowed to oust Khan; protesters then dispersed peacefully around midnight.
The rally — which the opposition had been preparing for since late February in southern Sindh province — may mark one of the biggest challenges for Khan since he came into power in 2018.
Pakistani opposition parties often hold rallies but this one followed a formal no-confidence motion against Khan that the opposition submitted to parliament. Under the constitution, the speaker of the National Assembly must soon convene a special session that will deliberate whether Khan still has majority support in the house.
Should Khan fail to win approval, the parliament will have to choose a new prime minister.
“The days of Imran Khan (as prime minister) are numbered,” Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, leader of Pakistan People’s Party and the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, told the rally.
Earlier Tuesday in Islamabad, opposition lawmaker Fazalur Rehman, Asif Ali Zardari, a former president and Bilawal’s father, and Shahbaz Sharif, the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, said at a press conference they were sure of the “success of our no-confidence motion.”
However, Khan has remained defiant, claiming he still enjoys the backing of the majority of lawmakers. In televised remarks at a gathering held in connection with the International Women’s Day, he said Tuesday he was fully ready to face the opposition’s no-trust move.
Khan needs 172 votes in the 342-seat assembly to stay on as premier. If none of the lawmakers from the ranks of his allies or his own ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf party vote against him, he will likely succeed. However, Tehreek-e-Insaf is currently facing a split because of an internal revolt by some members.
Khan, a former cricket star turned Islamist politician, has seen his popularity decline since last year, mainly because of increasing inflation.