The general elections in Pakistan will be held on January 15, 2008, a high-profile minister has said in an apparent move to placate political parties and the West that have been demanding restoration of democracy in the country.
The precise date, disclosed for the first time by Tariq Azim, the state minister for Information and Broadcasting at a press conference, sets the time table for the elections in a country currently having its fourth phase of military-guided democracy.
But there is a catch: President Pervez Musharraf would be re-elected before the general elections take place by the current legislatures, both federal and provincial, that had elected him once earlier.
This is a contentious issue with not only the politicians, but also legal and constitutional experts, who question whether a legislature can be an electoral college to elect the president twice in its single tenure.
The presidential elections would be held between September 15 and October 15, 2007, Azim said on Wednesday.
This is in keeping with Musharraf's repeated hints that he would seek a second term in the presidency and also decide when he, the Army Chief since 1998, would hang his uniform. He has argued that the country needs him in the dual role.
The Daily Times quoted Azim on Thursday as saying that Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, the banker-turned-politician, would be the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid)'s prime ministerial candidate.
Mushasrraf has preferred Aziz, a political lightweight, to the other senior leaders in Muslim League.
Azim's announcement should draw reaction from three top politicians living abroad in exile - two former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who have been striving to forge an alliance since May this year, and Altaf Hussain, chief of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM).
Musharraf has said that Bhutto and Sharif cannot contest the forthcoming elections.
Also put on alert will be other parties, especially Muttahida Majlis-E-Amal (MMA), the principal Islamist alliance that has been threatening to get its lawmakers to resign from the legislatures en masse to prevent Musharraf's re-election gambit.
Since he captured power in a military coup in 1998, Musharraf has been criticised in the West for denying democracy to his people.
The polls in 2002 did not convince the critics and US President George W Bush publicly pleaded for the restoration of democracy during his brief visit in March this year.