ISLAMABAD - The United States’ interest in general elections in Pakistan is evident as Washington has given a clear message about polls as early as possible.
The US ‘soft intervention’ comes amid confusion about the general elections after the National Assembly was dissolved last month just days before the completion of its mandated five-year term.
This gave the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold polls within 90 days to elect the new National Assembly. The polls in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhaw have already been delayed beyond the constitutional requirement as the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf had dissolved those provincial assemblies last year.
Last month, the country concluded a five-year parliamentary term, marking the third such term since transition from military rule in 2008. This period has been characterized by significant domestic political upheaval.
Over these five years, Pakistan has seen two ruling coalition governments with different prime ministers at the helm. Initially, it was the PTI led by Imran Khan, and its allied parties from August 2018 to April 2022. Subsequently, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), led by Shehbaz Sharif, and its allies took charge from April 2022 until August. Throughout this period, top political leaders in Pakistan grappled with legal issues. Notably, Imran Khan faced conviction for unlawful selling of state gifts.
Last week, the US pressed Pakistan to hold free and fair elections as senior US diplomat Victoria Nuland spoke to Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani.
“Acting Deputy Secretary Nuland and Foreign Minister Jilani discussed the importance of timely, free and fair elections in a manner consistent with Pakistan’s laws and constitution,” the US embassy said in a statement citing State department spokesperson Matthew Miller.
Days earlier, US Ambassador Donald Blome met Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja and reiterated America’s support for transparent and unbiased elections. The envoy urged for general elections in Pakistan under the law and vowed full support to the democratic process. He emphasized supporting elections that “adhere to Pakistan’s laws and the Constitution.”
The Election Commission earlier this month had said new constituencies based on the latest census would be finalized by December 14. After that, the Commission will confirm an election date. However, after the US’ intervention and political parties’ pressure, the ECP now aims to complete the delimitation process by November 30 and might call elections in late January or early February.
US interest in Pakistan’s elections is nothing new and sometimes Washington is also accused of making and breaking the governments. PTI and PPP, despite differences, want the elections to take place on time. The PML-N, on the other hand, is ready to give the ECP as much time as needed for the delimitations. The delay in elections will give more time to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to campaign if he returns next month, as announced by Shehbaz Sharif.
At present, there is no clear winner in sight. The country seems to be heading to another hung parliament with a coalition government led by a single largest party which could be anyone from the PPP, the PML-N and the PTI. The candidates for the PM’s slot are visible but PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto, PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari, PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif or PTI chairman Imran Khan may all in the end not find themselves in the PM’s House, giving way to a dark horse as in the case of the caretaker PM.