THE newly inducted caretaker government just a few weeks in office is facing a barrage of criticism and rising pres-sure on many different fronts. The biggest challenge confronting the caretakers is the economic front but the political and legal challenges too are staring them in the face. The entire country is in a state of uncertainty and what has added fuel to the raging fires of despondency is the rising cost of food stuff, the steep rise in the price of petrol and above all the abnormal increase in the cost of electricity. People are up in arms and demanding immediate relief in electricity bills as they are unable to pay the excessive increase in the bills and this appears to be the biggest challenge faced by the caretaker govt. The govt. appears to be struggling with an answer for the great public demand but so far it appears to be helpless to quell the public protests all over the country.
The caretakers appear to be between the devil and the deep sea because they cannot violate the terms of the standby agreement with the IMF as this agreement is what saved the country from a default and the govt. is duty bound to honor the terms of the agreement with the IMF or face dire economic crisis if the IMF backs out of the agreement. The economic managers of the Govt. led by Begum Shamshad Akhtar the finance minister are negotiating with the IMF to devise some relief formula but the protests and anger against the govt. is increasing with each passing day. The rapid increase in the cost of living. High inflation, unemployment has pushed millions of Pakistanis below the poverty line leading to discontent and severe criticism of the govt.
The common man is now faced with a dark and dismal economic future with no hope of immediate relief and it is now impossible to satisfy the public and extinguish the flames of anger against the govt. of the day. Ironically the caretaker Govt. is now asking the public to accept the failures of past governments such as the gross mismanagement of the energy sector total failure to address the inefficiencies and refuse to initiate any reforms in the power sector. To sprinkle salt on the wounds of the public it is an open secret that certain members of the state officials are pampered by free supply of electricity and the blue eyed political elite receives preferential treatment while the public is made to suffer at their expense. The rising cost of living and the increase in petroleum prices the public protests and anger will not be ended but will increase with each passing day. For the last few days there have been protests and shutter down strikes all over the country and almost all associations of traders and shop keepers have taken to the streets to register their protest along with the common public and such strikes are not without serious economic consequences.
The most serious and urgent political pressure faced by the caretakers is to hold elections within 90 days as re-quired by the constitution. The holding of elections within 90 days was ruled out by the ECP with their clarification that they need four months for fresh delimitation of constituencies that can only be completed by mid-December. This rejoinder of the ECP came after the approval of the results of the new population census conducted by the PDM Govt. as approved by the Council of Common Interests. The decision of the ECP to delay the elections and not to announce a specific date means that the general elections could now be pushed back to February or March 2024. The delay in elections resulted in a howl of protests from almost all political parties.
The PTI and the PPP have both demanded elections within 90 days. The PPP and PMLN were coalition partners in the PDM govt. and now there appears to be a difference in opinion regarding the election date between the former political allies and coalition partners. Stance of the PPP has left the PMLN totally isolated and it now appears that the PMLN is the only political party in favor of a delay in the elections date and this is being attributed to a lack of confi-dence in their election prospects due to the poor performance of the Shabazz Sharif govt.
A legal battle seems to be looming in the courts of law. The supreme court bar association, The Bar Council of Pakistan, Jamaat-i-Islami and the PTI have all filed constitutional petitions in the Supreme Court to suspend the ECP decision to hold elections on the basis of the new census and to order the ECP to hold elections within 90days of the dissolution of the assembly as mandated by Article 224(2) of the constitution. This scenario has now exerted immense pressure on the caretakers. The President has asked the legal opinion of the Law Ministry and the ministry has ruled in favor of the ECP and the PM has simply said that it was for the ECP to announce the date of elections.
—The writer is Professor of History, based in Islamabad.
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