ISLAMABAD: Pakistani senator, Anwarul Haq Kakar, will serve as caretaker prime minister to oversee general elections, the prime minister’s office said on Saturday, following a meeting between outgoing premier Shehbaz Sharif and opposition leader Raja Riaz.
A caretaker government is mandated under the Pakistani constitution to supervise holding free and fair national elections, which must be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the parliament’s lower house, meaning early November. But after the outgoing administration of Sharif approved the results of the latest census, the Election Commission now has to draw new boundaries for hundreds of federal and provincial constituencies and will be able to give an election date only after that exercise is complete. The vote is thus widely expected to be delayed to as far away as February.
Kakar, who will name a cabinet and head a government until elections, is from the impoverished southwestern province of Balochistan. He belongs to the Balochistan Awami Party and takes the reins of the country at a time of deep economic and political instability in Pakistan.
“We first agreed that whoever should be prime minister, he should be from a smaller province so smaller provinces’ grievances should be addressed,” Riaz told reporters in Islamabad after consultations on the matter with Sharif, who dissolved the National Assembly on Wednesday and kickstarted the process to form a caretaker set-up.
“The prime minister (Sharif) and leader of opposition have jointly signed the advice which will be sent to the president for approval,” a statement from the PM office said. President Dr. Arif Alvi subsequently approved Kakar’s appointment.
Sharif assumed power in April last year after then prime minister Imran Khan was ousted in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence. The outgoing PM’s tenure technically expired on Aug. 12, but he dissolved the assembly three days early to give the caretaker government 90 days to organize general elections, compared to 60 days if he were to step down on time, as per the constitution.
The caretaker premier’s main responsibility is to ensure elections are free and fair and to run routine affairs of government. However, the role has assumed extraordinary importance, since the outgoing government approved the results of a digital census on Aug. 5, making a delay in elections near inevitable.
Last month, cash-strapped Pakistan’s parliament also amended its election laws to empower the caretaker government to take important economic decisions, raising widespread concerns that the move was in anticipation of a caretaker set-up that would last longer than its constitutionally mandated three months.
Analysts have widely said any delay in the election could fuel public anger and add to uncertainty in the nuclear-armed nation of more than 241 million people.
The last general election in July 2018 was won by the party of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who was sworn in days later as prime minister for the first time.
Khan has been at the heart of political turmoil in Pakistan since he was ousted as prime minister in a no-confidence vote last year, after which he unleashed a campaign for snap elections and held nationwide street protests, including one in which he survived an apparent assassination bid. This month, he was convicted and jailed in a graft case and barred from taking part in any election for five years.
Khan has accused the powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan for nearly half its history since independence in 1947, of being responsible for his ousting. The military has denied the charge.
Khan was replaced by Sharif, who has been grappling with a debilitating economic crisis and historically high inflation levels as the government implemented painful reforms to secure funding from the International Monetary Fund.
In addition to the legal issues that could crop up if the vote is delayed, the side-lining of Khan, the country’s most popular leader according to polls, will also cast doubt over the credibility of the elections.