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ISLAMABAD: Controversial cleric Dr Muhammad Tahirul Qadri, whose march is rolling towards Islamabad, has conveyed a few demands, with the sacking of the election commission of Pakistan (ECP) as the first and foremost.
However, the Pakistan People’s Party of President Asif Zardari and the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif have termed Qadri’s demands as “unworkable and unjustified”.
Qadri, who has vowed to make public his other demands in the capital, wants immediate installation of an interim set-up acceptable to all stakeholders and implementation of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution that set a strict criteria for individuals to be eligible to contest elections.
Sources said a government team, headed by Chaudhry Shujaat, held talks with him and said it was ready to negotiate. But the government considers as “unconstitutional” his demand for dissolving ECP.
There is no other way except bringing an amendment to the Constitution with a two-thirds majority, a cabinet member said.
The constitution has two provisions to remove ECP hierarchy: Either any of the four members and the chief commissioner resign or through a Supreme Court reference.
The long march was overshadowed by countrywide protests against killings of Hazara community.
Political pundits are predicting important changes in the next few days and fear that the situation could go out of hand if the federal government failed to act prudently.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik has claimed that the administration of the capital had inked an agreement with Minhajul Quran officials that it would not go beyond the venue reserved for them by the administration.
PPP and PML-N leaders said the demand for a change in the process of scrutiny of candidates’ nomination papers under Articles 62 and 63 proved that he had a “hidden agenda” to delay the election.
Malik of the PPP ruled out the possibility of reconstitution of ECP.
And PML-N’s Deputy Secretary General Ahsan Iqbal asked why Qadri had not found any wrong in ECP under Justice Irshad Hassan Khan during the regime of General Pervez Musharraf.
“It is strange that ECP under Hassan was acceptable to Qadri but the chief election commissioner appointed with a national consensus is not acceptable to him,” Iqbal said.
As far as changes to Articles 62 and 63 were concerned, he said, these could not be done without amending the Constitution.
Malik said the dissolution of ECP meant a further delay of six months in the election.
He alleged that the main objective of Qadri’s march was to derail the democratic system.
“If he is conversant with the Constitution’s spirit, he should not have spoken in such a manner which is extra-constitutional. He should not mislead the nation.”
Senior PPP leader Naveed Chaudhry, also coordinator for Zardari in Punjab, said he was surprised by Qadri’s demand for dissolving ECP at a time when the elections were round the corner.
He said almost all major political parties had a consensus over the appointment as election commissioner of Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim whose integrity was unquestionable.
He expressed surprise over Qadri’s demand that elections should be held under Articles 62, 63 and 218 and said they were always held under them.
Chaudhry said it showed that Qadri had some goals when he demanded that agencies should be given some role in determining the eligibility of candidates under Articles 62 and 63 and that time for scrutiny of nomination papers should be increased to one month.
Qadri, a Pakistani-Canadian who returned home last month after years in Toronto, also accuses the government of being corrupt and incompetent, and says elections cannot be held until key reforms are enacted.