ISLAMABAD: Pakistan yesterday appointed former chief justice Nasir-Ul-Mulk as interim prime minister until general elections on July 25, which are expected to usher in the second ever democratic transition of power in the nuclear-armed nation of 208 million people.
The interim administration does not usually make any major decisions until the new government is elected, although it may be forced to act to shore up the economy amid a worsening macro-economic outlook.
Yesterday’s appointment, which was announced by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, comes amid growing political and economic instability, and ends weeks of wrangling between Abbasi’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party and the opposition.
“No Pakistani can lift a finger against such a name,” Abbasi told reporters while seated next to Syed Khurshid Ahmed Shah, the leader of the opposition Pakistan People's Party (PPP).
Unlike the run-ups to the previous two elections, which were marred by frequent attacks by Islamist militants, Pakistan has seen a sharp decline in militancy over the past few years.
But allegations of interference by the powerful military have returned in a serious way ahead of the July election, with PML-N accusing the military of trying to weaken it.
The military, which has ruled Pakistan for about half its history since independence in 1947, denies meddling in politics.
Mulk, who also served as the interim chief of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), will head a technocratic government after the current government and parliament are dissolved on Thursday.
Tasks awaiting the next government’s attention range from tackling Pakistan’s growing international isolation and souring ties with the US to fixing the economy and a growing reliance on Chinese loans to stay afloat.
Aamer Ahmed Khan, a Pakistani journalist and political analyst, said PML-N’s efforts to drag out the talks was an attempt to signal to voters its concerns about interference in the elections.
“If anything, the apparent agreement has only reinforced the cynicism of the incumbent party towards the health and transparency of the upcoming elections,” Khan said.
The main electoral challenge to PML-N, which has been weakened since its founder Nawaz Sharif was ousted as premier by the Supreme Court, is expected to come from the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, or Justice Party, which is headed by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan.
Mulk was a surprise choice for the role of prime minister, with PPP’s Shah saying he was not the front-runner when the ruling party and the opposition began discussing the six likely candidates.
Mulk “enjoys a good reputation”, said Raza Ahmad Rumi, the editor of the Daily Times.
“He’s seen as a neutral judge in the past without any political affiliation,” Rumi said. He warned that the ECP may have an even bigger role to play in the run-up to the election, and had not been properly reformed. - Reuters