THE prime minister’s reassurances to the nation on Thursday for an on-time general election were necessary, coming at a point when Dr Tahirul Qadri’s scheduled long march threatens to sow chaos. The usual rhetoric apart, Raja Pervez Ashraf referred to the holding of the election as an amanat or sacred trust and said his government would not allow anyone to derail democracy. The impending march on Islamabad has caused considerable apprehensions in political circles, and many have seen it as an attempt to upset the democratic process. Sadly, in Pakistan democracy has been interrupted many times by military dispensations whose legacy has allowed even the civilians after them to misuse their powers. The current dispensation may not be the perfect one — and there have been many acts of omission and commission where governance is concerned — but the approaching elections will be the first time the baton of rule is passed on from a democratic set-up, that has completed its tenure, to the next elected government. Credit for the system’s resilience must be given to both government and opposition that despite their differences, they did not attempt to thwart democratic norms.
It is on the basis of this spirit that the current rumours must be scotched and any plans of irregular intervention frustrated. The leaders of the two mainstream political parties must now meet and announce the date for the general election and decide on a caretaker set-up. Any joint declaration of this nature by Mr Ashraf and Mian Nawaz Sharif will be welcomed with a sense of relief, and would do much to pull the rug from under the feet of those with questionable agendas. Electoral reforms and constitutional amendments are not made in the streets. The passage of the 18th Amendment was the result of a marathon effort with participation by representatives of all political parties. Their painstaking efforts and the spirit of compromise they showed led to an act that restored the 1973 constitution to its original character. Dr Qadri and others of his ilk would have a much better chance of seeing reforms materialise if they stuck to the parliamentary process.