Ruling party is still on course to see out its full, five-year term.
Pakistan announces election plans
ISLAMABAD // Pakistan plans to hold landmark national elections in May, the country's information minister said yesterday. The vote will mark the first time a civilian government has completed a full five-year term in the country and transferred power through the ballot box.
Previous governments have either been deposed in army coups or dismissed by presidents allied with the generals. That history has led to fervent speculation in the past few years about whether the government would make it to the finish line this time around.
Despite repeated predictions that the government would be forced to call early elections because of political pressure, it now appears the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party will serve out its full term, which expires in March.
Elections must be held within 90 days of the end of the term, under the guidance of an interim government installed by the ruling coalition.
"God willing, the elections will be held in May," the information minister, Qamar Zaman Kaira, told reporters in Lahore.
The government has repeatedly said elections will be held on time, but Mr Kaira's comments were the first indication of an actual time frame.
The army remains the most powerful institution in Pakistan, but the past few years have resulted in an erosion of its authority while it has been bogged down in a bloody war against the Pakistani Taliban. The country's civilian politicians and judges have taken advantage of this scenario to carve out more power for themselves - a struggle that has often been accompanied by controversy.
An international human rights organisation criticised Pakistan's top judges yesterday for trying to prevent media criticism of the judiciary by threatening contempt-of-court proceedings, which can bring prison terms.
"Judges sworn to uphold the rule of law should not be using their broad contempt powers to muzzle criticism by the media," said Brad Adams, Asia director at the US-based Human Rights Watch.
"Judges have no special immunity from criticism. Unless they want to be seen as instruments of coercion and censorship, they should immediately revoke these curbs on free expression," Mr Adams said.
Private media outlets have mushroomed in Pakistan in recent years, bringing greater criticism of all branches of government.
The high courts in Islamabad and Lahore have both issued orders to stop the broadcast of television programmes critical of the judiciary within the past two months, said the New York-based group.
"No branch of government, including the courts, should be immune from public opinion in a democratic society," Mr Adams said. "Pakistan's judges have demonstrated the independence to hold the government accountable. But their credibility will be lost so long as they fight against scrutiny and accountability of the judiciary itself."