Pakistan will go to the polls on May 11, the presidency announced Wednesday, in a historic general election marking the first democratic transition of power in the country’s 66-year existence.
President Asif Ali Zardari, who confounded critics by keeping his fractious coalition together for a full five-year term, announced the date days after the 342-member national assembly dissolved at the end of its term.
“The president announced on Wednesday that elections to the national assembly will be held on May 11,” his spokesman Farhatullah Babar told AFP.
The vote will mark the first time that an elected civilian government hands over to another in a country that has seen three military coups and four military rulers since partition from India and the end of British rule in 1947.
But Taliban attacks and record levels of violence directed against the Shiite Muslim minority have raised fears about security for the polls in the nuclear-armed country of 180 million, a key but troubled US ally.
A parliamentary committee has until Friday to select a candidate to head a caretaker administration until the polls. The election commission should then announce a full schedule for the campaign.
Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif are likely to dominate the race, while former cricket star Imran Khan will compete in an election for the first time.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of Zardari and of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, is co-chairman of the PPP but cannot stand because he will not reach the minimum age of 25 until September.
Pak gave its military Rs. 687 billion secretly
Pakistan’s outgoing govt has acknowledged that it provided grants of Rs687 billion to the powerful military for security-related spending that were in addition to the annual defence budgets. An annual grant of about Rs200 billion was kept under wraps for years by the government led by the Pakistan People’s Party. The release of the grants was acknowledged in the budget strategy paper — a document that covers this fiscal’s revised budget estimates and projections for the next three years.
Afghanistan, US ‘reach deal’ on forces pullout
The US and Kabul appeared Wednesday to reach an agreement on the pullout of coalition forces from a strategic province, nearly a month after an ultimatum from Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Karzai on February 24 gave American special forces two weeks to leave Wardak, a hotbed of Taliban activity on the doorstep of Kabul, accusing Afghans they work with of torture and murder that has incited local hatred. The issue has been a source of rising tensions between Kabul and the US.