LAHORE: Tens of thousands of people are expected to rally in Pakistan's political capital Lahore over the next few days calling for President Asif Ali Zardari to quit and for elections next year.
Appetite is growing for polls in the city of eight million, Pakistan's second biggest and the capital of the most populous province Punjab, which commands the most number of seats in the national parliament.
That makes it bitterly contested political territory where opposition leaders are holding major rallies targeting the unpopular Zardari and trying to whip up votes for the future.
Chief among them is former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party controls Punjab and is the main opposition party at a national level. He is expected to draw large crowds at a rally on Friday.
"Join the protest rally on 28th October against costly electricity, power cuts and the worst corruption," read banners strung up by PML-N throughout the city.
"Come to change your destiny, come to save the country from looters and plunderers," chant party activists through public address systems.
Disillusionment is high with the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) that swept to power on a five-year ticket in February 2008, two months after Zardari's wife, ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated.
On Monday, a man committed suicide by self-immolation outside the federal parliament in the capital Islamabad.
On Wednesday, a man in his 70s died after waiting all night to collect his pension from tardy bank officials, triggering outrage in the media.
Pakistan's Human Rights Commission accused the government of callous apathy in the face of such desperation.
"This apathy is giving way to violent behaviour in society and the people are increasingly keen to launch vociferous protests in the hope that their plight would be noticed by someone," it said.
In Lahore, the malaise has been compounded by an unprecedented outbreak of dengue fever, infecting more than 16,000 and killing more than 248 people.
It is that anger that the PML-N is hoping to tap into by calling for early elections, which most observers now predict some time in the autumn of 2012.
"There are only two options -- seeing the anger in the people, it (the government) should quit and call fresh elections, or the people should come out and send them packing," senior PML-N leader Zafar Ali Shah told AFP.
"Allowing this government any more time is equivalent to suicide."
Interior minister and PPP loyalist Rehman Malik hit back, telling reporters that as the ruling party in Punjab, the PML-N was as corrupt as anyone else.
"They are not going to achieve anything from such protests. Being the government of the largest province Punjab, which is 52 percent of Pakistan, they have a major part in corruption," Malik told reporters.
Pervez Malik, a PML-N MP from Lahore, claimed 150,000 to 200,000 people were expected to join the rally on Friday and that "Zardari will have no option but to bow before the will of people and step down".
An irritant for Sharif and Zardari is cricket hero turned politician, Imran Khan, holding his own rally on Sunday at the Minar-e-Pakistan ground where the resolution for the creation of Pakistan was adopted on March 23, 1940.
"Throw out this government and save the country," is his campaign slogan. His Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) (Movement for Justice) party boycotted the 2008 election but seems confident about its prospects.
"God willing we will have a very big political gathering on Sunday. People are coming from different cities to attend and mostly youth are supporting us," Khan's senior vice president Hamid Khan told AFP.
Khan announced on Thursday that PTI would be holding a walk towards Parliament House on Friday too, after mid-day prayers, against drone strikes.
On Thursday, around 400 people, joined the "Save Pakistan rally" called by pop singer Ibrarul Haq in downtown Lahore to present his development agenda to resolve unemployment, power cuts and corruption.
"Live or die, we have to save Pakistan," and "Revolution, revolution," chanted the mostly young people, holding up Pakistani white and green flags.
But the commotion drew a sarcastic response from one onlooker who asked an AFP reporter: "Excuse me, whose turn is it today of saving Pakistan?"
Elsewhere in Lahore, Mohammad Rizwan, 25, shrugged as he cleaned cars for small change: "These rallies are not going to feed my family or save me from dengue," he said.