A new force in Pakistan’s politics has assaulted both the incumbent’s lack of activity and the integrity of the electoral system. Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to join a massive march on Sunday organised by Tahir ul Qadri, a moderate Islamist cleric from Canada.
The marchers are due to arrive in Islamabad today, but the government and its security forces want to stop them. They will be mistaken if they resort to violence and any attack on the marchers will simply strengthen Qadri’s position.
Qadri has tapped into a deep vein of popular suspicion of corruption that applies to all of Pakistan’s politicians. However, his own financing is very unclear — particularly, given his very expensive campaigning, which offers a message that many believe Pakistan’s military will be happy to hear.
He has called for Pakistan’s whole democratic system to be reformed and wants to throw the “criminals” out of politics, referring specifically to both the incumbent Pakistan Peoples Party and the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N.
Qadri has taken a particular dislike for the Electoral Commission, but even if his demands for more independence are valid, two months before a vital general election is not the right time to change the law.
Pakistan desperately needs new thinking and a new leadership, but it will be a mistake to change the law one week before the Electoral Commission finishes registering voters for polls that are due in April or May.