Pakistan's parliament makes history

Pakistan's parliament became the first since the country's founding in 1947 to complete a full term of five years. That sets the stage for elections.

B.K. Bangash/AP/File
Supporters of several opposition parties gather outside the Pakistani parliament demanding free and fair elections in the country in February, in Islamabad, Pakistan.

At midnight on Friday, the Pakistani parliament will make history by becoming the first Pakistan National Assembly to complete its full five-year term. 

Since Pakistan was formed in 1947, it has been marred by military interventions – even the outgoing government was formed under the last military dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

The relatively smooth transition this time, however, indicates that Pakistan’s civilian government and political parties have matured, analysts say.

“There is a consensus amongst the political class that democracy should continue. There is now a political culture of bipartisanship,” says Rasheed Choudhry, director of programs at Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), a body that monitors elections, political parties, and parliamentary reforms in Pakistan.

FAFEN released a report today on the five-year performance of the government, which highlights the fact that there was 150 percent increase in legislation passed in the parliament.

Mr. Choudhry, however, concedes that the government’s performance was questionable when it came to law and order and social issues. “They did not deliver on all fronts, but overall the democratic system survived, which will be good for the country in the long run,” he adds.

That the government made it the full term wasn’t completely expected.

Pakistan currently faces a number of issues ranging from insurgencies in its tribal areas and Balochistan, to sectarian and religious violence across the country. Pakistan also faces a bleak economic outlook, with an energy crisis that has crippled daily life in the country. In the past, the Pakistani Army has used such pretext to force itself into power.

“These five years we saw many instances of corruption, confrontations with the judiciary, and absence of law and order,” says Rasul Bakhsh Raees, a professor of political science in Lahore, pointing to Karachi and Balochistan. “But the military decided not to intervene, which shows even their attitude is changing.”

Mr. Raees adds that although the military shadow over civilian rule was not observed as strongly as in the past, it is still there. The removal of Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States was due to military pressure, he says.

“Every phase of democracy in Pakistan has been a battle, but the trend shows it’s [heading] toward improving the overall institutional balance.”

Though the parliament is dissolved today, according to Constitution of Pakistan, there is still one task left for some of them. The current prime minister and the opposition leader must agree on a caretaker prime minister, and if they do not, they will have to choose an eight-member committee to come to a consensus on a caretaker government within three days. (If this committee cannot agree on a new interim prime minister, the chief election commissioner will step in). Once the interim head is selected, the current prime minister will then hand duties over to the caretaker prime minister who will oversee general elections within 90 days of coming into power.

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