PRIME MINISTER Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah are scheduled to meet today for the next round of a constitutionally mandated consultation to nominate a caretaker prime minister ahead of the next general election.
With parliament’s term set to expire in less than two months and the caretaker administration set to take over from the beginning of June, assuming the PML-N does not abruptly dissolve parliament before then, the next few weeks are undeniably crucial to the democratic process.
Several things need to be considered here. In the absence of an agreement, between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, the Constitution stipulates two other options: sending the decision to a joint parliamentary committee and if that too is deadlocked, the ECP selecting a prime minister from one of the candidates presented to it.
Yet, it may be important for the government and opposition to demonstrate they can nominate well-regarded, apolitical and non-controversial candidates as caretaker prime minister.
The leader of the opposition should consult the other opposition parties, particularly the PTI, for their input on caretaker selection.
Recent events in the Senate have soured the overall parliamentary environment, but the seriousness with which political parties carry out their constitutional duties can shape the democratic environment.
A consensus nominee for caretaker prime minister among the PML-N, PPP and PTI would suggest the leaderships of those parties are able to work together when required to do so for the sake of democratic continuity.
Unhappily, the parties are treating the discussions and their preferences as secret for now.
This tends to fuel conspiracy theories and public concerns about behind-the-scenes deals that can be deleterious to trust in the democratic and electoral process.
It is hoped that the PML-N and the opposition will announce their respective candidates for consideration at the earliest.
While a smooth and uncontroversial caretaker nomination process is certainly needed, it is apparent that the democratic project is in need of significant improvements in other areas too.
As political parties prepare to reveal their election manifestos and campaign strategies, the leaderships ought to remember that even in the most intense of electoral fights, there are higher, democratic principles at stake.
Even as the country inches towards the next general election, democracy is under significant pressure in the country. Perhaps during the consultations for the caretaker prime minister, the political parties can also discuss the code of conduct that the ECP will enforce during the campaign.
The major political parties should themselves recognise that a fierce election fight is different from a dirty election campaign; the former can help strengthen democracy and offer voters a genuine choice while the latter undermines the electoral process and further opens the door to anti-democratic forces.
Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2018