The Pakistan People's Party, which led the government for the past five years, faces a difficult challenge in the upcoming national election expected in May because of anger over faltering economic growth, worsening energy shortages and continued attacks by militants.
FALTERING ECONOMIC GROWTH
The economy has grown at less than 4% a year under the PPP government, compared with much higher rates during the previous administration, which sometimes hovered near 7%. Inflation spiked, reaching an annualized rate of around 25% in some months. The inflation rate, however, has fallen in the past year, averaging around 11% in 2012.
Electricity shortages have almost doubled under the PPP compared with the previous administration. Some places in Pakistan suffer blackouts for up to 18 hours a day during the hot summer months. The country also has experienced increased shortages of natural gas, which were felt acutely during the winter because many people rely on natural gas to heat their homes as well as cook.
The military has launched numerous operations against the Pakistani Taliban in the country's northwest tribal region along the Afghan border since the spring of 2009.
Analysts say the operations and US drone attacks against militants in the tribal region have helped produce a significant decline in overall levels of violence in 2011 and 2012. But the Taliban remain a potent threat and have once again stepped up their pace of attacks in recent months, especially operations against high-profile targets like Pakistani military bases.
Sectarian violence by radical Sunni Muslim militants against minority Shiites also has significantly worsened in recent months.