Ahead of elections in Pakistan, outgoing gov't empowers caretaker setup

Ahead of elections in Pakistan, outgoing gov't empowers caretaker setup

Legislation enhancing powers of caretaker premier faces opposition within ruling coalition

By Aamir Latif

KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – Pakistan's parliament on Wednesday approved legislation, enhancing the powers of the caretaker prime minister ahead of crucial elections in the South Asian country this year.

The legislation, the first-ever of its kind in the country's 75-year political history, allows the caretaker prime minister to take administrative decisions, mainly for the continuity of a $3 billion financial assistance agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The majority of lawmakers in a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the Senate in the capital Islamabad voted in favor of the legislation, state-run Pakistan Television reported.

However, lawmakers from the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, and ex-Chairman of the Senate Raza Rabbani who belongs to a key coalition partner Pakistan People’s Party opposed the bill.

The caretaker prime minister, who is appointed through consultation between a sitting prime minister and the opposition leader in the lower house – the National Assembly – for a three-month term, is otherwise supposed to run day-to-day affairs and cannot take any administrative decision except for those related to holding of free and fair elections.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and opposition leader, Raja Riaz, have started consultations for the appointment of the interim prime minister, who is scheduled to take oath by Aug. 12.

The current parliament is set to complete its five-year term on the same day.

According to the constitution, if the government is dissolved before the parliament completes its term, elections would be held within the next 90 days, whereas if it completes its tenure, the Election Commission of Pakistan is bound to hold polls within the next 60 days.


- Elections 'not necessary'

In a bizarre move, opposition leader Raja Riaz downplayed the need for on-time general elections in the country.

In an interview with the local English daily Dawn on Tuesday, Riaz, who is a PTI splinter, said: “Elections are not necessary in the country." It "did not matter" if general elections were not held even for a decade, he added.

“The problems of the country and the people are more important. The solution to the challenges faced at this time is most important,” the opposition leader asserted.

His remarks fueled speculations that the caretaker setup could extend up to a couple of years, though all the government and opposition parties demand the holding of the national vote according to schedule.

According to Riaz, an economist should be the caretaker prime minister.

His demand apparently came against the backdrop of the IMF deal, which has kept the country's sinking economy afloat.

Pakistan and the IMF inked the nine-month stand-by arrangement last month.

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