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LAHORE: Pakistan’s government yesterday said it would aim to announce a date for a general election within ten days, following talks with a cleric who led a mass four-day protest in the capital.
The meeting in the eastern city of Lahore was part of a deal reached with Tahirul Qadri to persuade him to call off his sit-in outside parliament that paralysed the centre of Islamabad two weeks ago. Polls are due by mid-May but Canadian-Pakistani cleric Qadri led tens of thousands of his supporters to demand parliament be dissolved immediately and a caretaker government be set up in consultation with the military and judiciary.
“We will try our best to announce a date for dissolution of national and provincial assemblies and holding of elections within 7-10 days,” Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira told a joint press conference with Qadri.
Qadri’s protest, plus his fiery denunciation of politicians and praise for the military and judiciary sparked panicked rumours of a possible “soft coup” involving the courts and armed forces.
But after four days, on January 17, he backed down after striking an agreement with the authorities that had few signs of any significant government concessions.
The deal said parliament would be dissolved at any time before March 16 so that elections can take place within 90 days. The government had previously said parliament would dissolve on March 17. Kaira said the government also agreed to appoint a caretaker prime minister and caretaker chief ministers in consultation and consensus with Qadri, adding that there were differences of opinion over the dissolution of the election commission.
Meanwhile, civil society members have rejected the proposed increase in fee for filing nomination papers for contesting national and provincial assembly elections. The draft electoral reform bill prepared by the Election Commission of Pakistan proposes an increase in the nomination fee from Rs4,000 to Rs50,000 for the National Assembly and from Rs2,000 to Rs25,000 for the Provincial Assembly. This so-called reform will further marginalise the party workers, who lack financial resources, as political parties don’t support the ticket holders financially,” Pattan Development Organisation, Women’s Concern Network, Sanj Swair, Tehreek Bahalie-sailabzadgan and Civil Society Movement observed in a joint statement.