The stolen march

Pakistan's slow, halting journey towards an unprecedented, civilian-led transition took another bizarre twist this month.

Tahirul Qadri, a populist preacher turned political reformer, arrived in Islamabad with thousands of followers in tow, determined to bring down the federal and provincial governments and to put off elections until the political class is cleansed of corruption and malfeasance. Unusual as the Qadri spectacle was, it was not entirely unexpected. In parroting the army-led security establishment's longstanding aversion to civilian politicians, Qadri is simply the latest in a long string of thinly veiled threats to the democratic order.

What's changed, though, is the efficacy of the attacks: they don't quite seem to go according to plan, as they once did. Qadri left Islamabad claiming victory, but in reality he achieved little. Parliament remains intact, as does the Election Commission of Pakistan, the dissolution of both being central to his demands. And what he did achieve, he achieved through public negotiation with the very representatives he had denounced as charlatans and fraudsters.

Where Qadri has succeeded is in inserting some uncertainty in the election schedule and the caretaker set-up Pakistan's electoral laws requiring an interim government during the campaign cycle to mitigate political interference in the election process. The federal government appears intent on completing its five-year term in mid-March and thereafter going for elections within 60 days, with a general election likely in early May.

But Qadri forced the government's hand and made it publicly pledge to dissolve parliament before its five-year term expires, giving the caretaker set-up up to 90 days in office, there being a difference of 30 days in the election cycle for a parliament that completes its full term, and one that is dissolved earlier. In addition, Qadri has made the government concede that it will consult him in the process of nominating the caretaker prime minister and that the first 30 days of the campaign cycle will be used only to vet candidates, in line with constitutional provisions.

... contd.

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