Pakistan’s parliament was due to be dissolved Wednesday, ushering in a technocrat-led interim government to oversee an election that will not include the country’s most popular politician, Imran Khan.
The country has been in political turmoil since the former international cricket star was booted from power in April last year, culminating in his being jailed for graft at the weekend following a months-long crackdown on his party.
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By law, elections should be held within 90 days of parliament’s dissolution, but the outgoing government has already warned they are likely to be delayed.
The unlikely coalition between the country’s usually feuding dynastic parties — which came together to kick out Khan — has won little popular support during its 18 months at the helm of the world’s fifth-most populous country.
The economy is still in the doldrums despite a new International Monetary Fund bailout, with crippling foreign debt, soaring inflation and widespread unemployment from factories made idle because they lack foreign currency to buy raw materials.
“Economic decisions are invariably tough and often unpopular, requiring a government with a longer tenure to effectively implement them,” said Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency think tank.
“This election holds significance as it will result in a five-year term for a new government, which ideally should be empowered to make essential decisions vital for economic recovery.”
– Question mark over election date –
There has been speculation for months that there could be a delay to elections as the establishment grapples to stabilise the country, which is facing overlapping security, economic and political crises.
Data from the latest census carried out in May was finally published at the weekend and the government says the election commission needs time to redraw constituency boundaries — a sore point for several political parties.
Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center, told AFP that any delay could give time to the main coalition partners, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), to figure out how to address the challenge of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.
“But in reality, delaying the election could simply anger the public more and galvanize an opposition that has already suffered through months of crackdowns,” he said.
Behind any election in Pakistan lurks the military, which has staged at least three successful coups since the country was forged from the partition of India in 1947.
Khan enjoyed genuine widespread support when he came to power in 2018, but analysts say it was only with the blessing of the country’s powerful generals — who he reportedly fell out within the months before his ousting.
He later waged a risky campaign of defiance against the military, accusing them of meddling in politics and even naming an intelligence officer as being behind an assassination attempt that saw him shot in the leg in November.
He heaped pressure on the government to hold early elections by holding mass rallies and pulling his MPs from parliament, but ultimately his gambit failed.