Fears Pakistan cleric's march a poll spoiler
A PAKISTANI religious scholar will lead tens of thousands of supporters on a march to the country's capital to demand political changes, raising tensions before elections.
Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, 61, who also holds Canadian citizenship and heads an Islamic organisation based in Lahore with 90 branches worldwide, wants the government to agree to a role for Pakistan's army and top judiciary in forming an interim administration before a midyear general election. He has vowed to convert Islamabad into the ''biggest Tahrir Square'' on Monday, in a reference to the area that was the focus of the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt's capital, Cairo.
''He's a pure spoiler,'' said Muhammad Waseem, a political science professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, calling Dr Qadri's claims 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,'' Professor Waseem said.
Dr Qadri's sudden prominence comes as President Asif Ali Zardari's government is about 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.
Dr Qadri's message may be aimed at Pakistanis fed up with established political parties that they blame for corruption and a faltering economy.
He has promised a ''million-man march'' starting from Lahore. Supporters would travel the 300 kilometres to Islamabad, with stops in cities in between, he said.
The Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, held a meeting of senior officials in Islamabad on Friday to review security for the march, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported.
Mr Malik urged Dr Qadri to cancel the protest in the interest of security.