The much anticipated protest rally in Lahore – feared by many to be the second coming of the Islamabad dharna – wrapped up rather tamely compared to the government’s concerns, and earlier than the maximum time allotted by the Lahore High Court. The rally itself may have been mercifully peaceful, but the intentions of the parties were anything but. Over the course of thunderous speeches the participants laid down their combined objectives; to force the Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, and Law Minister, Rana Sanaullah, to resign from the provincial assembly of Punjab in the short term; and eventually seek to forcibly overthrow the “sultanat-e-Sharifiya” (sultanate of the Sharifs).

Of course, that was not the express reason the parties were there. The Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) had taken out this protest - and convened this makeshift platform of mismatched parties – to seek justice for the deaths in the Model Town Incident. As such, all the present parties united to criticise the actions of the Punjab Police, and by extension the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N). The recently come to light series of ghastly crimes involving sexual violence were also liberally used to beat the brow of the government.

But beyond a token support for these justified causes, most parties made sure the audience knew that their eyes were firmly fixed on the upcoming general elections as the political speeches took flow. The protest that was supposed to be a movement to seek justice quickly, and quite predictably, became a veritable springboard to launch the opposition’s induvidual election campaigns.

While such electoral theatrics are common, and perhaps even forgivable, across the world, the threat of force and violence – implicit in many speeches – is highly problematic. While no extended and destabilising sit-in was explicitly announced by the parties, the possibility that it might take place in the future was left hanging in the air like a sword over the government’s head.

However, beyond a desire for toppling the current government, the present parties shared little else, as the disunity and the mutual contempt was there for everyone to see. Imran Khan’s refusal to share a stage with Asif Ali Zardari – both taking turns to appear and speak - became a talking point as prominent as the ones raised by the speakers themselves.

For its part, the government should have no objections to such protests – given that they comply with the directions of the Lahore High Court. The right to protest is a cornerstone of democracy, and more events like this are to be expected given the upcoming elections. However these protests must stay within the democratic framework and refrain from violence and destabilisation – and at this point there is no certainty that they will.