Can Pakistan's caretaker government ensure free elections?
As Pakistan waits for elections, caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar's alleged proximity to the country's powerful military has raised concerns
Pakistan is several months away from general elections, but the nomination of Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar as the interim prime minister has already raised questions about the neutrality of his government and the likelihood of fair and transparent polls.
Kakar's critics say his Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) has close ties with Pakistan's powerful military political establishment, with some alleging cabinet members were picked by the military.
The BAP has vehemently rejected these allegations and says the caretaker government was formed in line with the constitutional process.
Under Pakistani law, after a term of government ends or is dissolved, a caretaker government is set up in consultation with the outgoing prime minister and the opposition leader. Together, they vet the names of various candidates for the position of caretaker prime minister.
Kakar's appointment 'surprising'
Former lawmaker Kishwar Zehra, whose party was part of the last government, told DW Kakar's name was never mentioned during the consultations.
"His name suddenly appeared, which was really surprising," she said.
A native of Balochistan and a political newcomer, Kakar caught the media's attention in 2018 after he formed the BAP, which defended the Pakistani military in speeches to parliament against accusations of rights violations in Balochistan province.
Kakar's patriotic rhetoric also drew positive attention from the military, and he was invited to deliver lectures at the army-run National Defense University of Islamabad.
Lashkari Raisani, a former lawmaker from Balochistan, told DW that Kakar was "patronized" and made prime minister by the military establishment.
However, the caretaker information minister, Murtaza Solangi, said Kakar and his cabinet were all appointed by due constitutional process.
Nevertheless, Pakistan's military remains a powerful force in the country's politics, and enjoys popular support among the population.
Qamar Cheema, an Islamabad-based analyst, said parties supported by the military could better improve Pakistan's socioeconomic stability and internal security.
Cheema argued that all political parties know a "hybrid system of governance" could help Pakistan develop.
PTI claims pre-election crackdown
Supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party say the military establishment organized Khan's removal and wants to keep the PTI permanently out of power.
Earlier this month, Khan was sentenced to three years in jail on corruption charges he says are politically motivated.
Lahore-based PTI leader Fatima Haider told DW there is a widespread ongoing crackdown against the PTI, which is slowly forcing members out of the party.
"Our workers and leaders are still being arrested and implicated in fake cases," she said.
"Under this situation, no level playing field exists for the PTI and no fair elections are possible," she added. "The caretaker government is talking about accountability and other long-term plans instead of making arrangements for fair polls."
Fauzia Kalsoom Rana, an Islamabad-based political analyst, said the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party of the last prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, will be favored in the campaign.
"It seems a level playing field will not be given to Khan's party, which would make the polls controversial," she told DW.
A 'level playing field'
However, the caretaker government denied allegations that Khan is being victimized politically and that his party would not be able to compete on a level playing field.
"We have no knowledge of such an action. Our government is not involved in any of such practices," said Information Minister Solangi.
Solangi added that Khan was convicted in a court of law and not by the current government. "The election commission will provide everyone with a level playing field. We are bound to assist the commission," he said.
The information minister added that the PTI has every right to present their concerns about a crackdown in a court of law.
Analyst Cheema believes that a vibrant media and active judiciary in Pakistan will ensure elections cannot be rigged.
"Political parties just resort to this propaganda of rigging to make polls controversial, but I think they will be fair," he said.
Published: 23 Aug 2023, 9:36 AM