ISLAMBAD, Feb 4: The plan for a sit-in by opposition parties led by the PML-N was all but washed out by heavy downpour here on Monday, although hundreds of people managed to gather outside the Election Commission of Pakistan to demonstrate their support for the commission and present a charter of demands for ensuring free and fair elections in the country. It appeared to be a mismanaged event which, according to political observers, had been organised by the opposition to counter Dr Tahirul Qadri’s demand for ECP’s dissolution made during a sit-in by his supporters in the capital.
Media personnel who had covered the four-day sit-in by thousands of people led by Dr Qadri in harsh weather found it difficult to compare it with Monday’s poor exercise.
Under the original plan, activists of 13 opposition parties were to gather outside the Parliament House, take out a precession to the nearby ECP headquarters and hold a sit-in there to express their confidence in the commission. But the heavy rain forced leaders of the PML-N, including the Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who had planned the event, to leave the venue without joining the march.
Chaudhry Nisar and other senior leaders of the party did manage to come to a small camp set up outside the Parliament House, but only for a brief stay and left their workers and guests, some of whom had come all the way from Karachi, to endure the downpour.
PML-N MNA from Islamabad Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry had come with a large number of umbrellas stocked in his car for distribution among the participants but that did not work. No organised procession could be taken out and people reached the ECP headquarters in small groups — most of them in cars.
Prominent PML-N leaders who made a brief appearance included Ishaq Dar, Raja Zafarul Haq, Khawaja Asif, Amir Muqam and Mushahidullah Khan. It was perhaps because of the indifferent attitude of the PML-N leadership that Liaquat Baloch of Jamaat-i-Islami took over the command and raised slogans to encourage the protesters.
In a TV talk show in the evening, the host confronted Khwaja Asif and asked him searching questions about the reason for Chaudhry Nisar’s absence from the march. Khwaja Asif tried to be evasive, but later suggested to the host to call Chaudhry Nisar and put the question to him.
When he was asked how come he was not saying anything in defence of his leader, Khawaja Asif said: “My leader is Nawaz Sharif”. He had the same answer when the questioner persisted and said that Chaudhry Nisar was his leader at least in the National Assembly as Leader of the Opposition.
In his brief speech at the camp Chaudhry Nisar said the purpose of the event was to empower the Election Commission.
Liaquat Baloch read out a memorandum which, according to him, had been agreed upon at a meeting of leaders of the participating parties.
The activists raised anti-government and pro-ECP slogans like “We want completely autonomous Election Commission”, “Go Zardari go” and “We are with the ECP”.
The delegation, which submitted the memorandum to ECP Member Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Shahzad Akbar Khan, included leaders of nationalist parties from Sindh and Jamaat-i-Islami.
Senator Jafar Iqbal of the PML-N tried to explain the absence of heavyweights of his party. He said it had been decided that leaders of parties from Karachi would be sent to the ECP for presenting the memorandum. “Had the purpose been to mount pressure on the ECP, the entire leadership would have gone there.” He alleged that certain elements wanted to keep the commission under pressure because they were afraid of fair elections.
The joint memorandum strongly condemned the “mala fide efforts of unconstitutional and non-political forces to make the ECP controversial” and said they wanted to delay the general election and create hurdles for it. Besides the PML-N, the call for the sit-in was given by Jamaat-i-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F, PML-F, PML (Likeminded), Jamhoori Watan Party, Sunni Tehrik, Jamiat Ulema-i- Pakistan, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, Awami Tehrik Sindh, Sindh United Party and National People’s Party.
In the memorandum, the parties expressed unequivocal confidence in the ECP which, they said, had been constituted unanimously in accordance with the Constitution. They urged the commission to ensure fresh delimitation of constituencies in Karachi in accordance with the directives of the Supreme Court, after a thorough door-to-door voter verification of voters in a transparent manner with the help of army and without any political interference.
The memorandum called for removal all governors on the induction of caretaker governments in the provinces. It called for immediate appointment of leaders of the opposition in Sindh and Balochistan assemblies so that they could play their constitutional role in the appointment of caretaker chief ministers. It sought transfer of all officers holding important positions at the centre and in provinces, including heads of agencies, federal secretaries for interior, cabinet, establishment, information and finance and provincial chief secretaries and inspectors general of police, before a caretaker prime minister and chief ministers took charge.