independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Pakistan hopes for full-term ballot

The aftermath of a terrorist bombing in Karachi (AP)

Pakistan is to hold landmark national elections in May, marking the first time a civilian government 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 speculation in the past few years about whether the government would make it to the finish line this time.

Despite repeated predictions that it 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 after 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," information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said.

The government has repeatedly said elections will be held on time, but his comments were the first indication of an actual timeframe.

The army remains the most powerful institution in Pakistan, but the past few years have seen an erosion of its authority as it has been bogged down in a war against the Pakistani Taliban. The country's civilian politicians and judges have taken advantage of this 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 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 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," he said.

Press Association

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