Officials in Pakistan have come out in criticism of Tahir-ul-Qadri, a Canadian-Pakistani Muslim leader, who has led thousands of people in protest against the current government for a third straight day.
Speaking to the crowd in the Pakistani capital on Wednesday, Qadri again demanded that the government resign, saying that the “nation will throw out the corrupt leadership”.
“The world can easily judge what the rulers have delivered in the last five years,” Qadri told the crowd outside parliament.
“They are looters, not leadership, who always looted Pakistan and nation.”
Speaking at a press conference near the site of the protests, Qamar Zaman Kaira, the federal minister of information, suggested a prolonged protest may lead to government action.
“There is nothing wrong with raising your concerns and protesting. But if you try to hold the capital hostage and
disrupt the lives of its people, the law will take its course.”
Kaira also said general elections will take place as scheduled some time between May 5 and 15.
“All political parties are happy with the Election Commission and elections will happen on time,” he said.
The Pakistan Muslim League, the main opposition group, also rejected Qadri’s call for the military to play a role in the formation of a caretaker government to oversee the run-up to elections.
“Tahir-ul-Qadri is working on somebody’s agenda to derail democracy in Pakistan and we reject all of his demands.” Nawaz Sharif, League president and former prime minister, told a news conference, in an apparent reference to the
Qadri set a one-day deadline for four demands to be fulfilled: to announce electoral reforms before elections; to dissolve the election commission and form a new one; to setup a caretaker government; and to dissolve the provincial and national assemblies.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Faisal Mirza, a supporter of Qadri from the Netherlands, said the current system was not in conformity with the Pakistani constitution.
“No political leader has accepted his challenge to debate him [Qadri],” Mirza said.
“I therefore believe his solution is the right solution for Pakistan: democracy run the way it is described by the constitution, not the way the corrupt and dictatorial system wants it.”
Mirza said people had come from very far to protest, but some were prevented by the police.
Organisers of the march accused the authorities of trying to provoke them into violence.
Qadri’s demand for the military to have a say in a caretaker administration and for reforms has been seen by critics as a ploy by elements of the establishment, particularly the military, to delay elections and sow political chaos.
His supporters say Qadri has given a voice to masses ruled by a feudal and industrial elite incapable of redressing a weak economy, crippling energy crisis, armed campaigns and sectarian violence.