Pak general election to be held on May 11

Islamabad: Pakistan will go to polls on May 11, marking the first democratic transfer of power in the country that has witnessed several coups in its 66-year existence.

President Asif Ali Zardari announced the date for the elections after the 342-member National Assembly completed its full five-year term.

The announcement was made after a formal proposal was received by him from Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf for setting a date for the general elections.

"The President announced the date as soon as the (proposal) was received from the Prime Minister a short while ago," said presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar.

Zardari's PPP, which came to power after the landslide victory in 2008 following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and former cricket star Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf will be the main contenders in the polls. Khan will compete in an election for the first time.

Officials said the Election Commission would formally announce the schedule for the polls within the next two days.

The National Assembly or lower house of parliament was dissolved after it completed its five-year term on March 16 and, under the rules, polls must be held within 60 days.

Pakistan's current government was the country's first civilian administration since independence to complete its full term.

Since its founding in 1947, Pakistan has spent several decades under military rule (1958 – 1971, 1977 – 1988, 1999 – 2008). The country has seen three military coups and four military rulers since 1947.

In a related development, an eight-member parliamentary committee tasked with choosing a caretaker Prime Minister to oversee the polls held its first meeting this afternoon.

The panel must choose a candidate by March 22, failing which the matter will be sent to the Election Commission.