US interest in Pak elections grows

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.

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