By ASIF SHAHZAD
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan will hold nationwide parliamentary elections on May 11, said a presidential spokesman on Wednesday. The vote is expected to produce the country’s first transition from one civilian government to another.
The president approved a proposal finalizing the May date for the upcoming election.
The Pakistani parliament completed its term Saturday, making it the first democratically chosen body to finish a full five-year term in a country that has seen three military coups and persistent political turmoil since its 1947 independence from Britain.
The ruling Pakistan People’s Party has been dogged by rumors that it would be deposed or forced to call early elections ever since it assumed office in March 2008. Its five-year term in office has been marked by near-constant political crises and a rocky relationship with the country’s powerful military.
But President Asif Ali Zardari has shown a remarkable ability to hold together a warring coalition government whose members threaten to quit every few months or so. Zardari is the widow of Benazir Bhutto, the iconic PPP leader who returned from exile in 2007 only to be killed later that year during a campaign rally.
Zardari has managed a balance between the need for U.S. assistance amid a deteriorating relationship between the two countries and rising anti-American sentiment.
Washington needs Pakistan’s help fighting al-Qaida and stabilizing neighboring Afghanistan, but a series of recent scandals have severely damaged ties. CIA contractor Raymond Davis shot and killed two Pakistani men in Lahore in early 2011, the U.S. unilaterally killed Osama bin Laden in the city of Abbottabad later that year and American forces accidentally killed 24 Pakistani troops along the Afghan border in 2012.
The Zardari-led coalition government has had some success fighting Islamist militants along several fronts in Pakistan’s northwest but it has been under tremendous pressure domestically due to rising inflation, a faltering economy and an acute energy crises.
Now that the parliament and government are dissolved, a caretaker government will run the country and oversee elections.
But so far the ruling PPP and the main opposition party headed by Nawaz Sharif, who served as prime minister twice, have failed to come up with a consensus candidate for prime minister. An eight-member committee consisting of equal members from both parties is meeting Wednesday to come up with a candidate they each agree on.
If the committee fails, the responsibility will then fall to the Pakistan Election Commission. The caretaker government is designed to ensure impartiality in the upcoming vote.