LAHORE: The opposition parties led by Pakistan Muslim League-N strongly rejected on Wednesday any move to wrap up the democratic system in a joint statement widely hailed as a sign of the maturing of Pakistani politics.
The rejection came in a 10-point charter of demands which was immediately welcomed by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf as a good omen for democracy and the country.
“This meeting strongly rejects any unconstitutional action that may block public opinion… and demands the government announce a comprehensive and clear election schedule without any delay,” PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif said as he read out the declaration endorsed by a dozen political parties in the opposition camp.
The government responded quickly with federal ministers Khurshid Shah and Qamar Zaman Kaira promising elections in the first week of May.
Gathering at Mr Sharif’s Raiwind house on PML-N’s call, the opposition parties discussed for over five hours the political situation arising out of the siege of Islamabad by Dr Tahirul Qadri who has been pressing for reforms even if it leads to a postponement of the general election due in a few months.
The decisions of the opposition leaders meeting in Raiwind had eagerly been awaited since it brought together prominent politicians whose voice could define the course of national politics at this crucial moment.
Pro-democracy forces in the country had warned that support from politicians to Dr Qadri’s demands, which included the setting up of a new election commission, could derail the system. Since the start of the Qadri march from Lahore on Monday, doomsday scenarios had been rebuilt, informed by the frequent past interventions into a democratic system.
Wednesday was when the pro-democracy forces struck back with vitality unseen in the country’s history. Along with the Nawaz Sharif-led rebuke to anti-system adventurers, Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf chief Imran Khan emerged from a long-drawn meeting of his own party to distance himself from Dr Qadri’s drive, saying ‘no’ to the march leader’s invitation for a joint push against the government. This denied Dr Qadri another ‘potential’ ally at a time when he appeared to be isolated in the national politics, with his sit-in in the capital badly in need of a fresh impetus.
Those who attended the deliberations included Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Jamaat-i-Islami’s Syed Munawwar Hasan, Pakhtunkhawa Milli Awami Party’s Mehmood Khan Achakzai, Pakistan People’s Party-S’s Aftab Sherpao, National Party’s Hasil Bizenjo and Jamhoori Watan Party’s Talal Bugti.
They promised to settle all national affairs within the Constitution and to avoid all anti-constitutional demands and activities.
The leaders pledged that any political change in the country would be brought only through a fair and independent election and in a significant statement reposed confidence in the Election Commission of Pakistan.
In an obvious reference to Dr Qadri’s wish-list, the opposition declaration took exception to the attempts at making the ECP controversial. It said this could affect holding of polls on time and recalled that the ECP enjoyed the trust of all parties, whether inside or outside the parliament, civil society and the masses.
The opposition parties were “unanimous” in their resolve to following the procedure laid down in the Constitution for establishing caretaker governments at the centre and in the provinces but sought that all means should be adopted for extending consultation for the purpose to other political parties too so the step could carry trust of all the forces. They condemned every form of terror, oppression, coercion and repression, whether it is from an individual, group, party or state.
Later asked if the gathering supported Dr Qadri and Imran Khan over the demand for the removal of President Asif Zardari to ensure free and fair polls, Mr Nawaz Sharif rather sarcastically remarked it could be part of a deal to favour PPP. He explained the fulfillment of this wish could actually allow PPP, which had a majority in parliament and assemblies, to elect a new president for full five years – as opposed to Mr Zardari whose term expires later this year.
“There are infants and toddlers as well as women, students and teachers of their seminaries (run by Minhajul Quran) among the crowd,” he said when asked if the opposition had any solution for the ongoing Islamabad sit-in, implying that the use of any force to disperse the marchers would be inappropriate.
The PML-N chief avoided a direct reply to the question about the Supreme Court’s orders for the arrest of the prime minister saying the court would have thoroughly considered the matter before giving its decision. He agreed with the apex court’s assertion that the verdict had nothing to do with the long march.
Welcoming the opposition’s stand on upholding the Constitution, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has assured the nation that the government is committed to hold free, fair and impartial elections as per the law and the Constitution and warned that any obstacle created in its way will not be tolerated, says a press release.
He also assured all political parties that they would be consulted on all matters related to elections so that no-one could point finger on its conduct or results.