The president of Pakistan dissolved parliament late Wednesday night on the advice of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, according to the president’s office, setting the stage for a national election amid political and economic turmoil.
The suggestion came three days before the end of the parliament’s five-year term on August 12. It will be followed by a caretaker administration chosen by Sharif and an opposition leader in the outgoing parliament, with new elections scheduled for 90 days.
“I will tonight advise the president to dissolve the parliament,” the premier had earlier told the parliament. He said he would start discussions with the opposition leader on Thursday to pick from candidates recommended from both sides to nominate as caretaker prime minister.
The vote, however, could be delayed several months with the election commission set to start redrawing hundreds of constituencies based on a fresh census.
Analysts have said any delay in the election could fuel public anger and add to uncertainty in the nuclear-armed nation.
The last general election in July 2018 was won by the party of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who was sworn in days later as prime minister for the first time.
Khan has been at the heart of political turmoil since he was ousted as prime minister in a no-confidence vote last year, raising concern about Pakistan’s stability. He has since been convicted and jailed in a graft case, following which he has been barred from taking part in any election for five years.
Khan has accused the powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan since independence in 1947, of being responsible for his ouster. The military has denied the charge.
Khan was replaced by Sharif, who has been grappling with a debilitating economic crisis and historically high inflation levels as the government implemented painful reforms to secure funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
In addition to the legal issues that could crop up if the vote is delayed, the side-lining of Khan, the country’s most popular leader according to polls, will cast doubt over the credibility of the elections.