Conundrum of Pakistani General Elections and Caretaker Government Priorities
Navigating the Conundrum of General Elections and Caretaker Government Priorities: By Umair Amjad Kayani
Following the appointment of Caretaker Prime Minister Anwar Haq Kakar, his Caretaker Federal Cabinet has been sworn in, comprising 16 federal ministers, 3 advisers, and 6 special assistants. Notable appointments include Jalil Abbas Jilani as Foreign Minister, Shamshad Akhtar as Finance Minister, Sarfaraz Bugti as Interior Minister, Murtaza Solangi as Information and Broadcasting Minister, and Lt. Gen. (Rtd) Syed Anwar Ali Haider as Defense Minister. Other positions include Ahmed Irfan Aslam as Minister of Law, Khalil George as Minister of Human Rights, Jamal Shah as Minister of National Heritage and Culture, Shahid Ashraf Tarar as Minister of Communications, Gohra Ijaz as Minister of Commerce and Textiles, Nadeem Jan as Minister of National Health, Umar Saif as Minister of IT, Muhammad Ali as Minister of Energy, Aneeq Ahmed as Minister of Religious Affairs, Sami Saeed as Minister of Planning and Development, and Madad Ali Sindhi as Federal Minister of Education. Additionally, Air Marshal (Rtd) Farhat Hussain will serve as an aviation adviser, Ahad Cheema as the establishment adviser, and Waqar Masood as the finance adviser. The caretaker government also includes six special assistants, with responsibilities ranging from human rights to national security coordination.
Notably, Communications Minister Shahid Ashraf Tarar resigned from his post as Chairman of FPSC before being sworn in, leaving the position of Chairman of the Federal Public Service Commission vacant once again, a role he had assumed just one month prior. Shahid Ashraf Tarar’s tenure was initially set to conclude on January 17, 2004, but his resignation has once again left this crucial national institution without leadership. The members of the caretaker federal cabinet are widely recognized for their expertise in their respective fields, yet they face substantial challenges amid the country’s current circumstances.
As per the constitution, the primary responsibility of the caretaker government is to establish a conducive environment for clean, transparent, fair, and impartial elections while managing the country’s affairs until the election process is completed. However, the reality is that general elections have taken a backseat in the caretaker government’s priorities. Instead, the government’s foremost task seems to be implementing the agenda, conditions, and directives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The previous government enhanced the caretaker government’s powers through formal legislation, and interestingly, two of its members have prior experience at the World Bank. Finance Minister Shamshad Akhtar, with her extensive background as a senior advisor to the Vice President of the World Bank, and her involvement in various significant projects at the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, raises questions about the caretaker government’s alignment with IMF directives. Similarly, Shahid Ashraf Tarar, Minister of Communication and Railway, previously served as an executive director at the World Bank.
Interestingly, even before being officially sworn in, the Caretaker Prime Minister wasted no time in implementing IMF instructions. One stark example is the soaring prices of petroleum products, causing undue burden on the common man. This includes an additional increase of up to Rs. 20 on August 16, further exacerbating inflation. Transport fares have surged by 20 to 30%, and even Pakistan Railways, a government-owned entity, raised its fares by 10% immediately. While these price hikes raise concerns, they are perceived as necessary steps to adhere to IMF terms and instructions.
The Election Commission of Pakistan recently decided to redraw constituencies in line with the digital census 2023 gazette notification, a process expected to take approximately four months. Consequently, holding general elections within the constitutionally mandated nine-day period has become nearly impossible. Hence, caretaker governments are operating for an undefined period. In Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, caretaker governments have been in power for over seven months already, with no clarity on when their tenures will conclude. According to the Election Commission’s schedule, the process of creating new constituencies is underway, involving the formation of Constituency Committees for each province, collection of necessary documents, determination of district-level quotas for National and Provincial Assemblies, and more. The preliminary list of constituencies will be compiled by October 7, followed by public reports and constituency proposals. This process will inevitably delay the election schedule, requiring at least an additional 60 days to complete the election process.
This complex situation is further compounded by potential delays due to the Election Commission’s track record and other institutions’ behavior. Without proper justification, elections could be postponed further, creating uncertainty.
Additionally, the decision of the Council of Common Interests to conduct a fresh census has been challenged in the country’s highest court. Supreme Court Bar Association President Abid Zaberi filed a petition under Article 184/3 of the Constitution, requesting the annulment of the decision to hold elections based on the new census. Zaberi argues that the participation of Punjab and Khyber Province Caretaker Chief Ministers in the Council of Common Interests meeting on August 5 was unconstitutional since they lack the mandate to represent the people. Therefore, the Supreme Court has been urged to order the Election Commission to adhere to the 90-day election timeline stipulated in the Constitution. The Supreme Court’s decision on this matter holds significant consequences.
In light of these challenges, it is imperative that the caretaker government and the Election Commission prepare for all possible scenarios and strive to create a conducive environment for transparent and timely national elections. Our current leaders and constitutional institutions must remember that power is a trust held by the people, and the path to progress and stability in the country lies in the hands of a government elected by the people.