ISLAMABAD: In a televised address to the nation, a visibly concerned Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday requested that a Supreme Court commission investigate alleged irregularities in the 2013 general elections.
"I request the Chief Justice of Pakistan [Justice Nasirul Mulk] to form a three-member commission that will investigate the rigging allegations and give a final decision," he said.
The prime minister’s appeal to the Supreme Court comes just two days before the launch of massive anti-government marches led by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Tahirul Qadri - both of whom have agreed on an agenda aimed at introducing, "true participatory democracy" based on alleged rigging in the elections.
The appeal also closely mirrors the words of Imran Khan, who said he would accept any decision taken by the Supreme Court if it launches a probe into rigging allegations.
Who is protesting, and why?
The premier questioned the ongoing protests in the country, repeatedly blaming unnamed "people" for the prevailing crisis.
"Can the people of this country – which is plagued with issues – ask what is the basis of this protest? Why are these people pushing Pakistan into terrorism, violence? What are their goals? Why these long marches? Please ask them. Why these hindrances?" he asked.
"In 2002, the PMLN contested elections while we were in exile. But we fulfilled our democratic role. In 2008, both Shahbaz and myself were declared ineligible (to contest polls). But we fulfilled our role. I was not given a place in the assembly but I did not cry about rigging," he said.
The prime minister said that he respected the people's right to protest, but stressed that parliamentary representation cannot determined by street protests.
"I am ready for any dialogue and negotiation. With an open heart I expressed the will to talk about the ongoing crisis," he said. "For the well-being of Pakistan, I will not let ego come in the way."
Alluding to the PAT Chief Tahirul Qadri, the premier said: "This country, which is already fighting terrorism, will not allow a third party to incite violence."
Elections were largely free and fair
Nawaz said that the 2013 polls were largely considered free, fair and transparent.
"No international or local body said that these elections were rigged or that the losers were the real winners," he argued.
The prime minister vowed that electoral laws would be reformed so that the next elections would be more transparent.
“For this reason, I asked the Speakers of Senate and the National Assembly to constitute an electoral reforms committee. I am happy that this committee has been formed with 33 members and is functional. I am hopeful that this committee will achieve its goal in good time and will be a milestone in our country’s history," he said.
The 2018 elections will take place under the recommendations of this committee, he added.
"We want to take all parties on board. We want all stakeholders in the National Assembly on board".
Nawaz said all state institutions in Pakistan are working together according to the Constitution.
"The judiciary is standing on the back of the Constitution and democracy. Last year, for the first time in Pakistan, a democratically elected government completed its tenure," said Nawaz in a televised address to the nation.
"By the grace of god, the country is on the path of democracy," he said.
"I am not saying our government has performed a miracle but I can say that during 2014, Pakistan has progressed," he said pointing towards infrastructure and economy, strengthening of rupee, increase in exports, and the rise of the stock exchange.
Countries as old as us (Pakistan) are stronger, more successful and progressive than us, said the premier.
"We have to find the answer to the question: what weaknesses are keeping us from (reaching) our destination?" he said.
In the midst of a crisis...
The planned demonstrations, and violent clashes between security forces and PAT supporters, have unnerved Sharif's fledgling civilian government.
The government has blocked roads in parts of Lahore and Islamabad to stop protesters from gathering in the capital, where Section 144 has been imposed. Cellular services were blocked in parts of the federal capital today, and are expected to remain suspended for an indefinite period.
Some members of the ruling party fear the protesters may be getting support from elements in the powerful military and specifically 'friends of Musharraf'. The military has however denied meddling in politics.