Islamabad: Pakistan’s president Arif Alvi on Wednesday dissolved the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, a first step in the countdown to a general election by mid-November. The move came as the country’s top opposition leader is fighting to overturn a corruption conviction that landed him in a high-security prison over the weekend.
A statement from President Alvi’s office said he acted on the advice of the country’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in disbanding the lawmakers as the assembly’s five-year term is ending.
Usually, such a step is a formality and a general election would typically have to be held within 90 days. But this year there’s a twist. A delay until the spring is possible if Pakistan’s election commission opts for redistricting ahead of an election, based on the results of a recent census.
The uncertainty over the election date coincides with the legal and political drama surrounding Sharif’s predecessor and national cricket hero, Imran Khan. The 70-year-old popular opposition leader was convicted by an Islamabad court on Saturday of concealing assets and was sentenced to three years in prison.
Khan has appealed the conviction, which effectively removes him from the election campaign at a time when his party seemed to be doing well in the polls.
The Islamabad High Court, where his appeal is being heard, said Wednesday that it wants to hear from the government and Pakistan’s election commission before making a decision on whether to overturn the conviction and order Khan’s release.
The commission last year disqualified Khan from holding public office for five years, accusing him of unlawfully selling state gifts and concealing assets as premier. Khan was notified of his disqualification again on Tuesday, following his sentencing.
The court adjourned on Wednesday without setting a date for the next hearing, dealing a blow to Khan’s legal team which has argued he is being held in unacceptably tough conditions at Attock prison, about an hour’s drive from Islamabad. The court’s eventual ruling could be appealed and heard by Pakistan’s Supreme Court.