Uncertainty Looms Over General Elections In Pakistan Despite Anwar-ul-Haq’s Appointment As Caretaker PM


By Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI—Uncertainty looms over the dates for general elections in Pakistan despite the appointment of Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) Senator Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar as the caretaker Prime Minister on August 12. Though the elections should be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the National Assembly, Pakistan is grappling with the political, constitutional and economic crises, which may delay the polls by a few months.

Kakar, 52, who is a surprise nomination for the country’s top post, will assume charge at a time when Pakistan is facing its worst economic crisis since Independence. Financial mismanagement and political uncertainty has severely affected the economy, which was already reeling under the impact of the global energy crisis and the last year’s devastating floods. Kakar also faces the challenge of implementing the tough conditions set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its bailout package of 3 million U.S. dollars.

Under the advice of the outgoing Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, President Arif Alvi dissolved the National Assembly on August 9. The outgoing government decided to conduct the general elections on the basis of the 2023 census. Once the census is approved, it is mandatory for the Election Commission to carry out a delimitation exercise to determine new electoral constituencies. The exercise of drawing new boundaries for hundreds of federal and provincial constituencies in a country of 24.14 crore people may take at least six months or more.

All of these developments have complicated the matters for Pakistan, and the elections which were to be held in October-November this year are now anticipated in March next year after the delimitation process. Besides, the elections will be held without former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has been jailed in a corruption case and barred from politics for five years.

Constitutional and legal questions will also come up if the elections are delayed beyond the 90 day’s limit, with an active Supreme Court which may step in to interpret constitutional questions. Kakar, who will serve as the eighth caretaker Prime Minister of Pakistan, has to perform the task of keeping the country running till the elected public representatives return for the job. His selection is going to be scrutinised in the coming days with several related aspects.

Kakar’s name was agreed upon during consultations between outgoing Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the Leader of Opposition in the dissolved National Assembly, Raja Riaz Ahmad. The first-time Senator is an ethnic Pushtun from Balochistan and a member of the BAP, which is considered close to the powerful establishment of the country.

The initial positive reactions over Kakar’s surprise nomination demonstrated that he was acceptable to all political parties in Pakistan, especially those part of the ruling coalition headed by outgoing PM Shehbaz Sharif. The BAP is also thought to have the backing of the country’s establishment, though the people involved in the consultation process were unaware about Kakar’s name.

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani was lobbying for Kakar and had met PM Sharif, Opposition leader Raja Riaz, Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, and other senior leaders of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) over the past few days. The delay in nominating a caretaker Prime Minister occurred apparently because Raja Riaz was reportedly insisting on his own candidate instead of agreeing on the names suggested by the PML-N.

Kakar’s choice was unexpected, given the considerably stronger candidates that were in the running for the top post. He is probably as politically non-controversial and palatable a choice as could be in the present circumstances in Pakistan and his selection has been generally well-received with even Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party representatives welcoming the decision.

Kakar may bring with him a perspective to the job that has been missing so far. He may be pressured to stick around for longer than the law would allow, but he has been advised to remain focused on the responsibility entrusted to him, which is to hold free and fair elections within the 90-day period mandated by the Constitution. The biggest challenge before Kakar will be to ensure that delimitations under the recently notified census are completed as quickly as possible. For this, he will have to facilitate the Election Commission with all the requirements.

Kakar was elected to the Senate in 2018 and has been a very active politician. He has also served as the spokesperson of the provincial government prior to his election to the Upper House. As he belongs to the Kakar tribe of Pashtun ethnicity, he represents both Pashtuns and Balochs. In 2008, Kakar contested the National Assembly election from Quetta on the ticket of Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q). Born in 1971 in the Muslim Bagh area of Qila Saifullah district of Balochistan, Kakar holds a Master’s degree in political science and sociology and is an alumnus of the University of Balochistan.

Kakar said after his appointment that he had got an opportunity to serve the people of Pakistan. “My gratitude also extends to all the stakeholders for reposing their trust in me to lead the country. Prayers requested from everyone that Allah gives me the fortitude to carry out my responsibilities with due diligence,” he said on his X handle, formerly known as Twitter.

There are three main contenders for leading the next government – Imran Khan’s PTI, Shehbaz Sharif’s PML-N, and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). With Khan in jail and barred from the polls, the PTI may expect to cash in on the supporters’ sympathy and anger, and repeat its 2018 election victory. But amid a continuing stand-off with the military, PTI’s prospects look bleak.

Three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the brother of the outgoing PM and whose PML-N was the senior partner in the outgoing coalition government, is seeking a return from exile. But with a corruption conviction against him still in force, Shehbaz Sharif remains a frontrunner to return to power. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, 34, the young chairman of the PPP and son of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, is another key candidate. He was the Foreign Minister in the outgoing government.

The Pakistan Military’s role will also be significant, as it has controlled the governments behind the scenes and ruled the country directly for more than three decades of the country’s 76-year existence.

As the military wields extraordinary power over politics, it may consolidate its control over the country if the caretaker set-up stretches beyond its constitutional tenure and there is a prolonged period without an elected government.

The caretaker government which will run the show till the elections are held cannot conclude new agreements or contracts, but can only exercise its powers related to the ongoing projects. The outgoing government had tried to grant much wider powers for the caretaker government by amending the Elections Act, but was forced to abandon the plan following widespread opposition in the Parliament. The scope for new decisions by the caretaker government is limited and will not impact the elections in any meaningful way.


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