Influential religious scholar Tahirul Qadri set a three-week deadline on Sunday for the Pakistan Peoples Party-led coalition government to introduce election reforms or else face a “million-man march” on January 14.
“Elections without reforms will be meaningless and people will reject results if they are held under the existing system,” Tahirul Qadri, who heads the broad-based Islamic organisation Minhaj-ul-Quran International (MQI), told his much-publicised “Save the State, not Politics” rally at Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore.
“I give the government a deadline of three weeks to establish an honest and independent body that will introduce electoral reforms and pave the way for free and fair elections,” said Qadri, who returned to the country after a five-year stay in Britain. “If that does not happen by January 10, millions of people will march on Islamabad on January 14 to protest the total collapse of system,” he added.
Qadri said if constitutional requirements were not fulfilled and all stakeholders, not just the two powerful parties (Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz), were not taken on board on a new interim set-up, he would reject the elections and would not let the lawmakers elected through “unconstitutional elections” sit in Parliament.
Although Qadri did not spell out his own election agenda, he promised to give a tough time to the government before the elections, insisting that his struggle involved “improvement and not end” of politics and elections in the country.
During his two-and-a-half hour speech, the MQI chief lamented “rampant violation of the Constitution”, saying that Articles 3, 9, 37, 38, 38 (D), 38 (E), 218(3) — all election-related laws – were being violated with impunity.
“I ask the Supreme Court, armed forces and the chief election commissioner (CEC) whether these constitutional provisions are being honoured and, if not, how would the upcoming elections be fair and constitutional?” Criticising the Election Commission of Pakistan, Qadri also raised serious doubts over the impartiality of the body, claiming that the CEC had no staff to ensure free and fair elections. “The CEC is just like a surgeon with no instrument in the operation theatre,” he added.
Ensuring his support to the country’s judiciary, he said Pakistanis wanted to see the implementation of the apex court’s rulings which were being flouted. He appreciated the fact the country’s top court had started to maintain accountability of the Balochistan and Sindh governments with respect to the worsening law and order.
He lamented the current scenario where, according to him, the government refuses to pay heed to the common man, who, in turn, was bartering his respect, conscience, vote and belief for food.
Qadri said “dirty politics” and frequent military interference have put the very state of Pakistan at risk. In his view, rule of law and transparent elections were necessary to thwart another dictatorship. “For the progress of any country, political and electoral systems must be changed.”
If voted to power, Qadri pledged, he would ensure provision of food, shelter, cloths, free and equal education, healthcare facilities, equal employment opportunities for all and speedy justice.
He urged the government to ensure equal distribution of agricultural land among the poor, elimination of terrorism, elimination of drone attacks, equal protection of Muslims and non-Muslims and a debt-free country.
Qadri termed Pakistan an “exporter of terrorism” and said the country has been made vulnerable due to the menace. He alleged that the government has failed to maintain peace in Karachi, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Pakistan has become a “laughing stock” the world over.
A 50-strong delegation of the Muttahida Quami Movement, under the leadership of its Coordination Committee’s deputy convener Farooq Sattar, also attended the rally to express solidarity with Qadri.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 24th, 2012.