Pakistan’s Parliament Ends Five-Year Term Before May Election

Pakistan’s parliament ended its five-year term, as the ruling party and main opposition negotiate the makeup of a caretaker administration that will run the country before general elections in May.

Outgoing Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, who led the first civilian administration in the nation’s 65-year history to complete its tenure and prepare to transfer power through a ballot, greeted the nation on achieving the milestone in his farewell address on state-run TV yesterday.

“This elected government is in the process of transferring power in line with the constitution,” he said in the late-night address. “All doors to seize power by force have been closed.”

Pakistan has been ruled by the army for more than half of the time since its independence from British rule in 1947.

Ashraf’s Pakistan Peoples Party and its main rival, the Pakistan Muslim League of former premier Nawaz Sharif, are seeking to reach consensus on who should be in the interim cabinet, as mandated by the constitution. The Election Commission of Pakistan will pick a caretaker premier if they fail to agree by March 24. Ashraf remains in office until a replacement is named.

Former finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, who resigned last month, and a former governor of the central bank, Ishrat Husain, are among five candidates in the running.

The milestone for Pakistani democracy may not bring much reward for the Peoples Party, which is run by President Asif Ali Zardari. The party garnered half the support of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League in an opinion poll released March 4. Its popularity has shrunk amid the nation’s worst energy crisis, inflation above 7 percent, a Taliban insurgency and sectarian bomb attacks.

The Peoples Party emerged as the largest in the National Assembly following elections in 2008, two months after its leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated at an election rally in Rawalpindi, just outside the capital, Islamabad. Zardari, Bhutto’s widower, took over the party’s reins, forging a short-lived alliance with Sharif.

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