Amid mounting pressure from protesters to quit as Pakistan's Prime Minister, a defiant Nawaz Sharif today refused to resign saying the country has survived "difficult times" and the current political crisis too shall pass.
"We have survived difficult times. In the 2008 elections, our hands were tied. But we campaigned and participated, we did not cry about rigging –- and it would have been a legitimate cry," he said in his first major speech since the crisis erupted two weeks ago. "Because at that time there was a dictator that controlled the government. He held those elections...But we said if PPP has got more seats than us then we will accept that right of the PPP," he said in his address to the National Assembly.
Political stalemate has continued for the last two weeks with Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri's Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) refusing to budge from their demand of the Prime Minister's resignation over allegations of rigging in last year's general election and killing of 14 PAT supporters in Lahore on June 17.
Sharif expressed hope that this phase will pass and Pakistan will be steered towards prosperity. The Prime Minister in his address indicated in no uncertain terms that his government and the present Parliament are here to stay, Dawn News reported. "We are not going to be diverted by these things. The journey for the supremacy of Constitution and law in Pakistan will continue with full determination and God willing there will not be any interruption in it," he said.
Sharif said today would be remembered in the nation's history as a great day for democracy. "This great display of strength will always be remembered. It makes me happy to think that this is the voice of the 200 million people of the country," the premier said.
Sharif said his PML-N for five years worked with the Pakistan People's Party government and supported it to complete its term. "I visited him (Imran Khan) in the hospital when he was injured and he congratulated me on winning the polls and said he will play the role of a constructive opposition," Sharif told the House. "Imran's claims were published in the papers as well," he said, adding that PTI had reservations but accepted the results of the elections. "Later, when Imran invited me to Bani Gala, I went and we had a pleasant discussion. He assured me he is with the government in all steps taken in good faith," Sharif said.
The crisis escalated in the last week with thousands of supporters of Khan and Qadri camping outside the Parliament, demanding the Prime Minister's resignation.
Sharif said "if today, we correct ourselves for the way forward, that will be positive for Pakistan." He pointed out that a committee had already been constituted for electoral reforms and all political forces should sit together and give their opinions. "This is the triumph of a vision...which is not about individuals...governments come and go, prime ministers come and go but focusing on the principle of democracy and Constitution is a victory of the system, of democracy," he said. "I haven't seen a similar example in the country's history," Sharif told the House, adding that the fact that nine of out ten parties voted for the resolution supporting democracy was a historic moment for Pakistan.
He also referred to the government's developmental ventures in his address. "Our energies should be directed towards Pakistan's development instead of what we have witnessed in the recent days," Sharif said.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court today ordered PTI and PAT protesters to clear the Constitution Avenue which also includes a road in front of the apex court and the Parliament by tomorrow.
A five-judge larger bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk, was hearing a set of identical petitions filed by bar associations across the country against the PAT and PTI's sit-ins on Islamabad's Constitution Avenue.
According to petitioners, protesters were breaching the rights of the common citizen which ensure freedom of movement and right of assembly. After making several observations, the court ordered PAT and PTI protesters to clear the way in front of the Parliament by tomorrow. The protesters have been sitting in front of the Parliament House and the Supreme Court building since August 19, making the road impassable for government employees. The order came as the clock ticked on a 48-hour ultimatum given by Qadri on Monday for the Prime Minister to step down.
Back channel efforts to broker a settlement between the government and protesters were on.