On Wednesday evening, Pakistan’s National Assembly, known as the ‘National Assembly’, was dissolved as per the recommendation of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif. With the dissolution of the Assembly, the process of electing an interim government in Pakistan has begun, in which the largest opposition party, PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf), led by Imran Khan, will not be able to participate. Imran Khan is currently in jail.
Role of the Interim Government
Until the formation of a new elected government, an interim or caretaker government will take charge in Pakistan. It is essential to understand what has happened in Pakistan’s politics. The dissolution of the National Assembly, what it implies, and the role of the interim government in the meantime, are significant factors. When will the elections take place?
Recent Developments in Pakistani Politics
The National Assembly of Pakistan completed its five-year term three days before its expiration date. President Arif Alvi approved the recommendation to dissolve the National Assembly by former Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif on Wednesday evening. The dissolution of the National Assembly is executed under Article 58 of the Constitution. Consequently, the current government’s term came to an end.
The existing National Assembly, the lower house of the parliament, was scheduled to end its five-year term on August 12th. The dissolution of the National Assembly will not directly impact the upper house, the Senate. Up until now, only the National Assembly has the authority to pass or reject any bills, while the Senate remains unaffected. Bills approved by both houses have already been sent to the President for approval. If the President does not sign them within ten days, they are automatically considered approved.
Significance of National Assembly Dissolution
As per Article 52 of the Pakistani Constitution, the National Assembly is dissolved as soon as it completes its five-year term from its first session. This is a democratic process that allows citizens to cast their votes every five years and choose a new government. According to Article 58 of the Constitution, if the President’s recommendation to dissolve the National Assembly within 48 hours of his proposal is unsuccessful, it is automatically dissolved. Once the Assembly is dissolved, the term of all Cabinet members also comes to an end. However, if an impeachment process against the Prime Minister is initiated, the President cannot recommend dissolving the Assembly. In this case, the President can dissolve the Assembly based on his discretion, if any other member of the National Assembly lacks confidence in the majority members.
Role of the Interim Government
During the period between the dissolution of the Assembly and the new elections, an interim or caretaker government is appointed. The primary responsibility of the caretaker cabinet is to create a conducive atmosphere for free and fair elections. Additionally, it ensures the regular functioning of the government and prevents any disruption during the transition period between the dissolution of the Assembly and the swearing-in of the new government.
Appointment of the Interim Government
The appointment of the caretaker cabinet is done by the President or the Governor (in the case of provincial assemblies). However, this selection is made with the consultation of the incumbent Prime Minister or Chief Minister and the cooperation of opposition leaders. Once a mutual consensus is reached, the current Prime Minister and opposition leaders in the respective legislative bodies propose two candidates for the position of caretaker Prime Minister. If there is disagreement between the current Prime Minister and the opposition leaders within three days of the National Assembly’s dissolution or when it seems imminent, a committee comprising of two candidates from each side is formed. This committee then decides on the interim Prime Minister. If the disagreement persists, the matter is referred to the Election Commission.
When Will General Elections Take Place in Pakistan?
Following the dissolution of the National Assembly, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) assumes a crucial role. As per Pakistani law, the ECP is an independent constitutional institution. It is responsible for preparing and conducting elections. According to Article 224 of the Pakistani Constitution, the ECP must hold general elections within 60 days of the completion of the National Assembly’s five-year term or within 90 days in the case of the National Assembly’s early dissolution.
However, after the 2023 census, the ECP is now legally bound to conduct a thorough re-demarcation process. This process is anticipated to take at least four months. It is also mentioned that the ECP needs to update the voter list and complete other relevant steps. This implies that the entire process could be postponed until March or April of the next year.
Current statements from the Home Minister Rana Sanaullah and Defence Minister Khawaja Asif also indicate that elections might be delayed beyond the 90-day constitutional limit. However, Pakistani experts reject this delay as legally unacceptable. According to Abdul Moiz Jafferi, a lawyer, “Nothing permits the ECP to exceed the 90-day period for holding a workable mandate.”
The dissolution of the National Assembly has set the wheels in motion for Pakistan’s political transition. The country is now preparing for an interim government to oversee the electoral process until a new government is elected. As Pakistan navigates this period, its political landscape continues to evolve, impacting its governance and future trajectory.