Pak cleric to lead march to Islamabad over electoral reforms
Lahore: A Pakistani cleric with a huge following Sunday warned that he would lead a march to Islamabad next month if the government failed to carry out electoral reforms before the 2013 general election to weed out corrupt and dishonest candidates.
Allama Tahirul Qadri, who heads the Tehrik-e-Minhajul Quran, set January 10 as the deadline for making changes in the electoral system to ensure free and fair elections.
He threatened that he would march to Islamabad with four million followers on January 14 if the government failed to act.
Officials said an estimated 200,000 people attended the gathering at the Minar-e-Pakistan that was addressed by Qadri, who resurfaced in Pakistan's political arena after living abroad for seven years.
During his two-and-half hour speech, Qadri repeatedly attacked the government and parliamentarians, accusing them of poor governance and corruption.
Qadri said his intention was not to delay the upcoming general election but contended that Article 254 of the Constitution allowed polls to be put off so that the electoral system could be reformed.
He called for the military and the judiciary to be given a role in installing a caretaker government of "clean persons" to oversee the election process.
Over the past few days, Pakistan's newspapers and TV news channels have been blanketed with advertisements about Qadri's return to the country and his "rally for a change" at the Minar-e-Pakistan.
Qadri's detractors and political parties like the PML-N have questioned the sources of his funding and some have alleged that he is being propped up by the security establishment to delay the polls.
Pakistan's national and provincial assemblies are set to complete their five-year term in March and the next general election is expected to be held sometime between April and May.
Political parties, especially the PML-N, have alleged that Qadri's re-emergence and his threat of a protest was a "serious move" backed by intelligence and security agencies to postpone the general election.
There has been considerable speculation in Pakistan's political circles about a possible move by the security establishment to prevent the country's first transfer of power from one democratically elected government to another.
No civilian government has completed its term in Pakistan's history.
During his speech, Qadri repeatedly highlighted the need to put off the polls so that reforms could be carried out and corrupt politicians flushed out of the system.
"Two parties, Pakistan People's Party and PML-N should not make an underhand deal with each other regarding the setting up of the interim government," he said.
"The judiciary, military, other stakeholders and all parties inside and outside parliament should be consulted about the formation of the caretaker set-up and it should comprise clean persons who implement the Constitution in letter and spirit before going into the general election," he said.
He claimed polls would not be "acceptable" if the Constitution is violated.
Qadri's unveiled his motto "Siasat nahi, riasat bachao" (Save the state, not politics) and urged the people to boycott the current parliamentary democracy and replace it with a new and transparent system that could guarantee their rights under the Constitution and Islamic law.
He said the public was against the "corrupt political system" which had brought Pakistan to the verge of destruction.
The prevailing system had been favouring only two per cent of the people for the last 66 years, he claimed.
"That is why we are talking about changing the system and not for holding elections again and again under this system," he said.
Qadri, a former lawmaker who resigned from parliament during the reign of military ruler Pervez Musharraf, also said he was opposed to terrorism, foreign interference in Pakistan's affairs and US drones strikes.