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ISLAMABAD: A cleric who has been pushing for electoral reforms in Pakistan will resort to street protests again if the government does not abide by an agreement that eased a political crisis, an aide said yesterday.
Muhammad Tahirul Qadri, who has a history of ties with the military, reached a deal with Pakistan’s ruling coalition on Thursday that will give his party some say over the formation of a caretaker government ahead of elections this spring. Qadri’s party may also participate in the elections.
The cleric’s reappearance on Pakistan’s political stage a few weeks ago after years of living in Canada, and his calls for the military to play a role in forming an interim administration, has raised speculation he may be backed by the country’s powerful army. Qadri and the military deny this.
The cleric, who led four days of street protests in the heart of the capital aimed at forcing the government to resign, will keep pushing for political reforms and a halt to corruption, said his spokesman.
“We will ensure implementation of the agreement with full letter and spirit,” Qazir Faizul Islam, Secretary of Information for Qadri’s charity said.
“If the government tries to deviate, we will force them to follow through the power of the people and media.”
Aside from giving Qadri a voice in who leads the caretaker administration, the government also agreed to dissolve parliament before a scheduled date of March 16, although it did not specify a date.
It also said elections would be held within 90 days of the dissolution and electoral reforms would continue to be discussed.
An announcement of an election date could come during a parliament session on Monday.
“After signing the agreement for electoral reforms, we are part of the electoral process. We might take part in elections,” said Islam, adding however that Qadri had no ambitions to become prime minister.
But the focus for the moment seems to be on the interim administration that will be formed after the dissolution of parliament and will oversee the elections.
A new political crisis could erupt if Qadri tries to promote candidates for caretaker prime minister seen to be sympathetic to the military, which has ruled the country for more than half of its history as an independent nation.
Qadri supported a 1999 military coup, and praised the military during speeches this week, appealing to thousands of supporters and members of the middle and lower class who have grown tired of Pakistan’s dynastic politics.
Any disagreements between Qadri and the government on electoral reforms could also bring fresh turmoil, distracting the state from a host of challenges, ranging from a Taliban insurgency to crippling power cuts to a fragile economy.