Pakistan 'anti-corruption' cleric to boycott elections

AFP , Tuesday 19 Mar 2013

Pakistani cleric who recently issued a fatwa against terrorism and led largest political rally in Islamabad in years in January, claims his party will boycott polls expected in May due to corruption

A populist Pakistani cleric who has generated mass protests to demand sweeping political reform will boycott the forthcoming general elections, he told AFP.

The polls, expected by mid-May but for which no date has yet been set, will mark the first democratic transition between two civilian governments in Pakistan, where the military remains powerful after staging three coups.

"This is just an election of money, might and manipulation. That is why I decided my party should not take part," said Tahir-ul Qadri, a religious moderate who has written a fatwa against terrorism and suicide bombings, on Monday.

He founded a small political party in the 1980s, but took until 2002 to get elected to parliament under military dictator Pervez Musharraf, only to resign two years later allegedly fed up with the system. He then left for Canada.

In January, he led the largest political rally in the capital Islamabad in years after returning suddenly from seven years in Canada, sparking panic about a rumoured judiciary-military plot to derail elections.

He accuses parties in power of using millions of dollars of state funds to bankroll their campaigns and says that candidates who refuse to pay tax and bills should not contest parliamentary seats.

According to a report from the Centre for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan, more than 60 percent of the outgoing cabinet and two thirds of its outgoing federal lawmakers paid no tax in 2011.

Under the constitution, lawmakers should have "a good character", be "sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest". They should also be disqualified if they, their spouse or any dependents default on the payment of government dues or utilities.

"My struggle is a reformist movement struggle. Sometimes you don't achieve the result within a couple of months, or one year, two years—you have to struggle for a long time," Qadri told AFP by telephone.

A former university academic who taught Islamic law and jurisprudence, Qadri set up Tehreek-e-Minhaj-ul-Quran, a religious and educational network promoting inter-faith harmony and operating in more than 70 countries.

Qadri called off his January rally after the government said he would be consulted on the appointment of a caretaker prime minister in the run-up to polls and that there would be a 30-day period for candidates to be screened.

"The government and the election commission have both, one by one gradually, backed out from all of those commitments," said Qadri.

Politicians are still locked in talks trying to agree on a caretaker premier.

The race will be dominated by President Asif Ali Zardari's Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

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