Pakistan Cleric to March on Capital to Demand Election Overhaul

By Haris Anwar on January 11, 2013

A Pakistani religious scholar who has rallied tens of thousands of supporters behind his call to clean up politics said yesterday he’ll lead a march to Islamabad, raising tensions ahead of an electoral milestone.

Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, 61, who also holds Canadian citizenship and heads an Islamic organization based in Lahore with 90 branches worldwide, has vowed to convert Islamabad into the “biggest Tahrir Square” from Jan. 14, drawing parallels with the Arab Spring uprisings, unless the government agrees a role for Pakistan’s army and top judiciary in forming an interim administration ahead of a mid-year general election.

“He’s a pure spoiler,” said Muhammad Waseem, a political science professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, describing Qadri’s claims as over-inflated. “He doesn’t have a defined political constituency but he commands a large number of religiously motivated followers who can create instability at this crucial moment,” Waseem said Jan. 7.

Qadri’s sudden prominence comes as President Asif Ali Zardari’s government is set to become the first democratically elected administration to complete its five-year term and transfer power through a ballot, in a country ruled for half its history by the military. The cleric’s message may be aimed at Pakistanis fed up with established political parties they blame for corruption and a faltering economy.

“This system of governance and this parliament have failed,” Qadri said in a press conference in Lahore yesterday. “This march will bring a change we all so badly need. I call all Pakistanis to come out and be with me to push for these electoral reforms, and to end this political dictatorship.”

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