Pakistan will hold a general election on May 11 in a move that marks the first democratic transition of power in the country’s 66-year existence.
The government became the first to see out a full five-year term on Saturday, despite Taliban violence, record sectarian unrest, chronic power cuts and a fragile economy.
“The president received a summary from the government asking him to announce a suitable date for the election, so the president announced today that general elections to the national assembly will be held on May 11,” spokesman Farhatullah Babar said.
So far, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-N, the main opposition party headed by Nawaz Sharif, who served as prime minister twice, have failed to come up with a consensus candidate for prime minister.
An eight-member committee consisting of equal members from both parties is meeting on Wednesday to come up with a candidate they each agree on.
The responsibility will then fall on the Pakistan Election Commission if the committee fails.
The caretaker government is designed to ensure impartiality in the upcoming vote.
The opposition leader and ruling party must agree on a list of officials to head the caretaker administration.
The vote will mark the first time that an elected civilian government hands over to another, in a country that has seen three military coups and four military rulers since partition from India and the end of British rule in 1947.
The PPP’s five-year term in office has been marked by almost constant political crises and a rocky relationship with the country’s powerful military.
Taliban attacks and record levels of violence directed against the Shia Muslim minority have raised fears about security for the polls in the nuclear-armed country of 180 million, a key but troubled US ally.
However, Zardari has shown a remarkable ability to hold together a warring coalition government whose members threaten to quit every few months.
Zardari is the widow of Benazir Bhutto, the former PPP leader who returned from exile in 2007 only to be killed later that year during a campaign rally.
The president has had to manage a balance between the need for US help amid a deteriorating relationship between the two countries and rising anti-American sentiment.
Washington needs Pakistan’s help fighting al-Qaeda and stabilising neighbouring Afghanistan, but a series of recent scandals have severely damaged ties.
CIA contractor Raymond Davis shot and killed two Pakistani men in Lahore, while the US killed Osama bin Laden in the city of Abbottabad in 2011. US forces accidentally killed 24 Pakistani troops along the Afghan border in 2012.