A Zardari election poster in Islamabad. (AFP)
Islamabad, March 20: Pakistan embarked on the journey to its first-ever democratic transition of power on Wednesday after President Asif Ali Zardari announced May 11 as the date for the general elections.
The President's announcement came a day after Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League (N) failed to reach an understanding on the name of a person, who is to head the caretaker set up, forcing speaker of the dissolved national assembly to refer the matter to an eight-member parliamentary committee to select a person for the post within next 72 hours.
"President Asif Ali Zardari today announced that general elections to the National Assembly shall be held May 11, 2013," his spokesman, Senator Farhatullah Babar said in Islamabad.
He said that the president announced the date as soon as the summary was received from the Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Wednesday, adding that the premier had advised the president to announce a suitable date for holding general elections to the National Assembly, which stood dissolved on completion of its constitutional term of five years on March 16.
Although there is every possibility that election to the provincial assembly will also be held on May 11, Babar said that final decision in this regard will be announced after dissolution of Punjab assembly. This is for the first time in Pakistan's history that an elected government completed five-year tenure with full support from the powerful military, which otherwise ruled the country for half of the period of its existence.
While provincial assemblies of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, Baluchistan and Sindh have been dissolved, the dissolution of Punjab assembly is still awaited as the ruling PML(N) and opposition's PPP have so far failed to reach an understanding on the name of caretaker chief minister for the province.
Meanwhile, the parliamentary committee comprising four members each from the PPP and PML(N) held its first meeting on Wednesday to select a caretaker prime minister with analysts saying that if they fail to sort out the matter within 72 hours, it will be referred to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
"The commission will have two days to finalise a name," an ECP official told The Telegraph.
The May polls will be held amid heightened security fears triggered by renewed wave of acts of terror and sectarian violence targetting Shiite Muslims across the country. More than 200 Shias were killed in three major bomb attacks, two in Quetta in January and one in Abbas Town of Karachi early this month.
Leading Pakistani analysts believed that there is hardly any doubt left about postponement of elections, saying that the president has set the electoral process in motion by announcing the date and now the election commission will announce the election schedule by end of this week.