Pakistan’s government named a caretaker prime minister on Saturday, a move that kicks off preparations for the country’s next general election and comes amid a year of political turmoil.
The close relationship of the new leader, Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar, with the country’s powerful military has strengthened his political dominance in Pakistan, sending a clear message: After a year As political turmoil challenged the authority of military leaders, they had a firm hand on the wheel once again.
“He is undoubtedly a choice of the establishment,” Khalid Mahmood Rasool, a political analyst and newspaper columnist, said, referring to the military establishment.
The term of the outgoing government, led by Shehbaz Sharif, who is also close to the military, ended on Thursday. In Pakistan, when the term of the government ends, a caretaker should be set up to manage the next general elections.
Mr. Kakar’s appointment comes amid growing speculation that the elections — once expected to be held this fall — are likely to be delayed until next spring at the earliest. It also follows a dramatic week in Pakistani politics.
On Saturday, a former prime minister, Imran Khan, was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison after being found guilty in a corruption case. The arrest is a climactic twist in a year-long political showdown between the former leader, who was ousted in April 2022 in a no-confidence vote, and the military, which he accuses of orchestrating his downfall. Military leaders denied the claims.
In the year since Mr. Khan fell in the military and left office, he proved that he is still a force to be reckoned with in Pakistani politics. At rallies and marches across the country, he has drawn thousands of his supporters into the streets, where he has attacked military leaders for the tight grip on power they hold behind the scenes of a struggling democracy.
The military responded with a chilling crackdown on his supporters who have all but been purged from his party in recent months – a campaign that ended with Mr. Khan last week and showed that even strong public opposition could not dethrone Pakistan’s military.
With his conviction, Mr. Khan is barred from running for office for five years, officials said last week. Mr. Khan is now appealing his sentence in a heated legal battle that will determine his — and the country’s — political future. He faces several court cases that he describes as a petty political vendetta.
Mr. Kakar will be sworn in as interim prime minister within a week, officials said.
Generally, elections must be held within 60 to 90 days of the dissolution of Parliament. But there is growing doubt that the country will go to the polls by that deadline.
Last week, officials with the outgoing government announced that new electoral boundaries based on the latest census must be drawn before the country can hold the next general election. That process is expected to take six months or more.
On Tuesday, when asked by a local television news segment whether elections would be held by the end of the year, the outgoing interior minister, Rana Sanaullah, said: “In a straightforward answer: no.”
Delaying the election will benefit the military establishment, analysts say, by giving the country’s heated political climate more time to cool down before its 241 million citizens go to the polls.
“If the election is delayed for a long time, it may lead to a political blowback that may complicate the political and economic dimensions,” said Mr. Rasool. “The fate of Imran Khan will have a major impact on the evolving political situation and public support.”
The legacy of Mr. Sharif, the outgoing prime minister and Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother, who has served as prime minister three times, are seen as mixed, analysts said.
Mr. admitted Sharif that his greatest achievement was saving the country from economic default by successfully negotiating a $3 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund. However, he left in his wake a struggling economy, high inflation and devastation from last year’s devastating floods.
He also faces a difficult balancing act in trying to maintain his disparate political coalition. The image of Mr. Sharif has been tarnished by his involvement in questionable legal and administrative maneuvers to settle court cases against his family and allies, analysts said.
Critics say his government has failed to protect civil liberties, facilitated the military’s political influence, and allowed a heavy-handed crackdown on Mr. Khan, jailed its top leaders and thousands of workers.
The interim prime minister, Mr. Kakar, hails from one of the country’s least populated provinces, Balochistan, and enjoys good support across the country’s political divide. Analysts say that the political and religious views of Mr.
“He is a seasoned political activist, known in the media with excellent public relations skills,” said Salman Javed, a director of the Islamabad-based Pak Afghan Youth Forum. “He worked for almost every party in some capacity.”