Islamabad: The election to choose the next Pakistan President will be held on August 6, over a month earlier than expected, in a move seen as an attempt to hasten the exit of incumbent Asif Ali Zardari.
The schedule for the presidential election was announced today by the Election Commission.
"The schedule has been approved by Chief Election Commissioner Fakhrudin G Ibrahim in a special meeting," an Election Commission official, who did not want to be named, said.
Zardari, currently on a private visit to Dubai and London, is set to complete his five-year term on September 8. He has announced that he will not run for a second term.
The announcement of the date for the presidential poll came as a surprise to observers as the electoral college is currently incomplete. Bye-elections for 42 vacant seats in the national and provincial assemblies will be held on August 22.
The four provincial assemblies and the two houses of parliament form the electoral college for the presidential poll and voting is held in the assemblies.
According to the current strength of political parties in the national and provincial assemblies, the nominee of the ruling PML-N of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will easily win the election.
Khurshid Shah, a senior leader of Zardari`s Pakistan People`s Party, criticised the decision to hold the election before the President completes his term.
"I don`t know why they are doing it before the completion of the electoral college. The presidential election can be legally held only after August 22," Shah told reporters.
Former Election Commission Secretary Kanwar Dilshad too criticised the decision. According to the official schedule, the last day for submitting nomination papers is July 24. The nominations will be scrutinised on July 26 and the official nominees will be announced on July 29.
Zardari, 57, replaced former military ruler Pervez Musharraf and managed to survive despite strong criticism from the media and opposition.
It is believed that the move to hold the poll on August 6 is part of efforts by Zardari`s opponents to force him to resign as he will be a "lame duck" President after his successor is elected.
So far, political parties have not revealed the names of their candidates though the PML-N held a meeting in the Prime Minister`s House to discuss various names for the top post.
Sources said Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, Sartaj Aziz, Mumtaz Bhutto and Ghaus Ali Shah were among those considered by the PML-N leadership but no decision was made about the final nominee.