Transition tests: Pakistan in election mode

The appointment of a caretaker Prime Minister in Pakistan, under whom the country will face general elections on July 25, sets the stage for the second consecutive transfer of power from one civilian government to another. This in itself is a landmark for democracy in Pakistan, where no civilian Prime Minister has completed a full term in office; only in 2013 did a government complete its full tenure for the first time. The choice of Nasirul Mulk, a former Chief Justice, as caretaker Prime Minister has been welcomed across the spectrum, with leaders of the main political parties, including the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the Jamaat-e-Islami, issuing statements commending outgoing Pakistan Muslim League (N) Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s decision. During his time in the Supreme Court, Justice Mulk heard several contentious constitutional matters, including one in which a sitting Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, was summoned on contempt charges in 2012. He was also on the seven-judge bench that issued a restraining order against the then all-powerful President, Pervez Musharraf, in 2007. In 2013-14 he served as the acting Chief Election Commissioner, which will hold him in good stead in his task of taking Pakistan through free and fair polls, and conducting necessary government business in the interim in an impartial manner.

However, Justice Mulk and his caretaker Cabinet will have crises to deal with over the next two months. To begin with, Pakistan is set to be placed on the grey list by the international terror financing watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force, at its plenary session in June. The second issue is internal, but stems from the same problem: Pakistan faces the danger of terrorists and extremists being ‘mainstreamed’ into the electoral arena and marginalising the political centre, which is already missing former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after his disqualification from public office by the Supreme Court. Hafiz Saeed’s Milli Muslim League has already gone to court to demand recognition. Security during the campaign will also be a challenge. Earlier this month, an attack on the PML(N) office in Karachi and an assassination attempt on Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal underlined just how serious the threat is to politicians. As caretaker Prime Minister, Justice Mulk will be also required to steady the economy. A balance of payments crisis, for which the outgoing government has reportedly asked Beijing for a loan of $1 billion to $2 billion, will add to Pakistan’s burgeoning debt on account of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The caretaker regime has its task cut out, and it will need internal support and that of its neighbours and the world community. The successful completion of the exercise will be a positive signal for all of South Asia as well, with Bhutan, the Maldives, Bangladesh, India and Afghanistan (in that order) all due for elections over the next year.


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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 4:20:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/transition-tests/article24027325.ece

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