Islamabad: Just a month-and-a-half away from national elections, this is high political season in Pakistan, as nearly half of the country’s population of 200 million head to the polls on July 25 to decide its future.
The five-year term of the governing political party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, ended on May 31, following which former justice Nasir-ul-Mulk was appointed the head of a neutral, interim government.
The election marks the second democratic transition in Pakistan’s history, though it comes amid months of political tumult and civil-military tensions.
In any normal political environment, PML-N would be going into the campaigning as a favourite. It is still the dominant party in the Pakistani heartland, Punjab. Despite the corruption accusations that led to the ouster of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, it has devoted followers.
But now the country is awaiting a court ruling that could see Sharif imprisoned. That decision is expected in the weeks before the elections.
“With the selection of the former chief justice as caretaker prime minister, Pakistan’s democracy is showing signs of a pulse,” said Arif Rafiq, a political analyst and a nonresident fellow at the Middle East Institute. “The major political parties are continuing a recent tradition of selecting by consensus an impartial figure to oversee the election process, thereby increasing the odds that it will be free, fair and credible.”
The last general elections in 2013, brought Sharif to power with an overwhelming majority. But he had to fight for legitimacy in the face of broad protests led by opposition politician Imran Khan, who accused Sharif’s party of having rigged the elections and staged a protest sit-in in Islamabad that lasted months.
Sharif was also forced to fend off charges of corruption that arose from revelations made in the so-called Panama Papers. In July, the Supreme Court removed him from office and barred him from holding public office for life. But Sharif is hoping that if PML-N retains control in the summer elections, he can find a way back into power.
Alliance on the cards
An independent election commission will administer the polls, and international observers including from EU are expected to observe elections.
A total of 172 out of 272 directly elected seats are required for a governing majority in the National Assembly for formation of new government. As no single political party is likely to sweep the elections, most commentators expect the election to produce another coalition government probably a goulash of leading political parties.
Some political observers believe that two rival parties Imran Khan led PTI and Bilawal Bhutto led PPP may consider an alliance if they muster two-third majority together.
Over 12,000 nomination papers were filed by June 11 on the last day of submission, according to Election Commission of Pakistan which has forwarded data of all candidates to Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) for verification of declaration. The process of scrutiny will be summed up by June 19.