Days after Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi dissolved the lower house of parliament, paving the way for a general election under a neutral caretaker administration, a new caretaker prime minister has been named.
The election was meant to be held within 90 days, in November, but the uncertainty of the date as the country grapples with constitutional, political and economic crises.
Here are some key questions about the situation and how the next few months are expected to play out.
Who is the new caretaker PM?
Outgoing premier Shehbaz Sharif and opposition leader Raja Riaz Ahma named Senator Anwar ul-Haq Kakar of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), a coalition ally that withdrew support for Imran Khan in late March. .
The little-known senator from Balochistan, Pakistan’s least-populous province, will head an interim government until the next vote and is tasked with choosing a cabinet to oversee key ministries.
Sharif will remain prime minister until the caretaker premier is approved by President Alvi. He and the leader of the opposition in parliament chose a consensus leader to head the caretaker administration.
Will the election be delayed?
The governing government must hold an election within 90 days. However, after the outgoing government approved a new census in its final days, new electoral boundaries must be drawn up by the Election Commission.
The exercise of drawing new boundaries for hundreds of federal and provincial constituencies in a country of 241 million people could take at least six months or more, according to a former commission official.
The Election Commission must announce how long it will take to complete the exercise, which may also include the litigation of candidates in the new formations of constituencies, and, based on that, give an election date.
What is the role of the military?
The military continues to play a large role behind the scenes in the country. It has ruled Pakistan directly for more than three decades of the country’s 76-year existence and wields extraordinary political power.
Political analysts fear that if the caretaker setup exceeds its constitutional tenure, a long period without an elected government will allow the powerful military to consolidate its control.
Who are the main contenders?
There are three main contenders for the leadership of the next government: Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of Shehbaz Sharif and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
With Khan in jail and barred from the polls, his PTI will hope to cash in on the sympathy and anger of supporters, and repeat its electoral victory in 2018. But amid the ongoing standoff with the military, PTI’s prospects depend of a detente with the generals, which seems unlikely as it stands.
Three-time ruler Nawaz Sharif, the outgoing prime minister’s brother and whose PML-N was the senior partner in the outgoing coalition government, is seeking a return from exile. But with the corruption conviction against him still pending, Shehbaz remains a frontrunner to return to power.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, 34, the young PPP chairman and son of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, is another important candidate. He made waves both locally and in important foreign capitals in his first government job as foreign minister in the outgoing government, and was widely seen as a future premier.
Challenges ahead of the polls
Stabilizing the economy is the main challenge for the $350bn economy on a narrow path to recovery after a bailout from the International Monetary Fund averted a sovereign debt default. Economic reforms have already boosted historical inflation and interest rates.
Political uncertainty is another major front following Khan’s imprisonment and ban. There was no violence following his arrest, unlike in May when his supporters rioted, but his continued detention raises questions about the credibility of the election.
Constitutional and legal questions should arise if the election is delayed beyond 90 days, with an active Supreme Court known to act to interpret those constitutional questions.
Does Imran Khan have a role in the general election?
Former prime minister Imran Khan, the country’s main opposition leader, is unlikely to play a role in this process as members of his party resigned from parliament last year to protest against his removal of a vote of no confidence.
The opposition now consists of dissidents from his party, including opposition leader Raja Riaz Ahmad. Khan is currently in jail for three years after being convicted on corruption charges and has been banned from contesting any election for five years. He denies wrongdoing.