Interim set-up

Published July 25, 2023

IT is becoming clearer and clearer that the upcoming elections will be far from a fair contest. The PML-N and PPP have lately worried that a ‘non-political’, ‘neutral’ caretaker set-up may be co-opted by the establishment and end up overstaying its welcome.

Their solution to this dilemma was, reportedly, to find a pliant politician who could ensure polls are held on time and also ‘manage’ any political challenges that may arise in the interim.

The floating of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s name as PML-N’s nominee for interim prime minister, accompanied by reports of a planned legislative move to give the caretakers powers otherwise reserved for elected regimes, has triggered renewed speculation over what fresh crises may lie in store for the country in the months ahead.

PML-N insiders have said that Nawaz Sharif had “made it clear” that the interim PM will be of the government’s choosing, “come what may”. It appeared to be a message for the establishment, which is rumoured to be backing its own horse in the race. But could an interim set-up that is obviously partisan — either in favour of a political grouping or the establishment — ever be acceptable?

Apparently, the PML-N would like nothing better, but it does not seem to have the PPP backing it up on this. On Monday, PPP’s Sherry Rehman made it clear that the party does not consider Mr Dar a candidate for interim PM as his candidacy hasn’t been “discussed” with the PPP yet.

There was much indignation in the PPP camp after local media reported Mr Dar was being considered for the job, with many saying the appointment of someone from the Sharif clan would be “unacceptable”.

It is worth recalling that the government’s justification for violating the Constitution in delaying the Punjab and KP assembly elections earlier this year rested on the argument that having an elected government in the two provinces would make it ‘impossible’ to hold a free and fair general election there some months later.

The government’s intransigence on this matter precipitated the debilitating political unrest seen earlier this year, which also had grave implications for the economy.

For the government to now take a U-turn on the need for a neutral set-up overseeing the poll process is rank hypocrisy. There may be nothing in the law that prohibits someone affiliated with a political party from being part of an interim set-up, but the country desperately needs an election free of every conceivable controversy.

Appointing someone who is a loyalist to this side or that will greatly damage the credibility of the exercise. There is no shortage of capable, self-respecting men and women in this country who can be given the job and trusted to deliver. Enough of these games.

Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2023

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