An opportunity?

Published July 15, 2023

WITH several important questions still hanging over the upcoming election, the prime minister has an opportunity to do some lasting good.

On Thursday, Shehbaz Sharif reiterated his government’s intention to pack up and hand the reins over to a caretaker set-up upon the expiry of its term in August, yet offered little indication of when and how the handover process will begin.

With just four weeks remaining in the 15th National Assembly’s tenure, the legally required consultations that must take place between the prime minister and opposition leader in the National Assembly over candidates for the caretaker government have yet to begin.

The nation waits with bated breath to know who will be ruling while the political parties campaign, and for how long. The names of several controversial characters have been doing the rounds, and it is with quiet trepidation that many have been speculating the actual ‘mandate’ of the interim set-up that will be announced.

Given the absence of any real opposition in the National Assembly, the consultation process, at the moment, appears to be a mere formality. The opposition leader, a PTI turncoat keen on securing a ticket from another political party, is unlikely to have any strong or independent opinions on the matter.

In any case, the PML-N and PPP seem to have already discussed, if not decided, the nominees between themselves during a recent huddle in Dubai. Must it be so, though?

The appointment of any individual whose credentials are not beyond reproach would mark the first step towards a questionable election, the implications and consequences of which will be impossible for the next government to escape.

On the other hand, this could also be an opportunity for Mr Sharif to salvage his rather troubled first stint as the country’s chief executive.

The outgoing prime minister has already redeemed himself somewhat by ensuring a degree of economic stability with the last-minute IMF deal. He can now end his first government on an even stronger note if he can bring back some political stability before wrapping up.

To this end, Mr Sharif must consider convening a multiparty conference to take a joint decision regarding the caretaker set-up. Doing so could be the coup de grâce to what has been a dark and regrettable chapter in the country’s political history.

Of course, he has no compulsion to do so: the PTI abdicated its right to have a say in the matter when its members resigned en masse from the National Assembly last year. But Mr Sharif has a legacy to consider.

He leads one of Pakistan’s largest political parties and should not call curtains on his government looking like a villain. The upcoming elections should promise a fresh start, not the rerun of an already failed experiment.

Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2023

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