It was an inevitability that letting the outgoing Assembly run to its full term would mean a summer election. Elections are avoided in summer because of the heat, but ever since the Musharraf era interpretation of a full term meant five years in full for the Assembly, and not five years from election to election, the caretaker term has been tacked on, meaning that the elections do not take place according to the calendar, but according to a slightly wider definition of a year. The result is that if there are enough Assemblies running to their full term, the elections would fall in summer. As much as the current Assembly, being elected on May 11, goes to its full term, the next election will take place around end-July 2018. It should not be forgotten that if the five-year rule is insisted upon, one could get an India-type situation, where the second Assembly had been elected, but the first not dissolved, and which met after the election.

That is not the only objection to an election at this time of the year. One other result is being seen now: budget-making without the government that will present it. In fact, the new government, which will probably take office at the end of May, will have to present the budget, defend it and get it passed in the month after that. If it does not, the government will grind to a halt, because no money can be disbursed without parliamentary sanction. The constitution provides for a situation where there is no Assembly at the time of the budget, a situation the country faced in 1988, but what happens just after an election, it is silent.

One additional problem, the constitution was silent about loadshedding. There are a number of difficulties it creates before the elections. But the first one is about to come up - that of maintaining law and order. As loadshedding increases with coming of the heat, and as longer and longer power breakdowns occur, people have begun rioting, going as far as to attack distribution company offices. Over the last few years, this has occurred, but the law and order situation quickly comes under control, almost as if rioters and potential rioters themselves are frightened by what they have done. This process, which takes days rather than weeks, looks as if it will coincide, or at least overlap, with the polling day. The most immediate problem the incoming government will have to deal with will be either power protests, or their aftermath. If the caretakers are over-enthusiastic about suppressing these protests, that aftermath might be frightful for an elected government.

If one sees the difficulties being caused, it does not seem logical for the option of the Kalabagh Dam project to have been closed. Among other benefits of the dam, it was to have produced 3,600 MW of hydro-electricity. Unlike thermal electricity, which can only be generated if there is hydrocarbon fuel burnt, whether gas, furnace oil or even coal, hydel needs only for water to flow. Gas and furnace oil need to be imported, while Thar coal is indigenous.

The import of fuel has also been problematic. The problem of circular debt has been created by this need to import. When a renewable source, hydel, is abundantly available, the question arises: why it has not been raised?

This is particularly the case for the current election. This is by no means the first election when loadshedding has been one of the issues for the campaign. Energy loadshedding goes back to the 1990s. Loadshedding, this time around, may have become one of the main campaign issues, and it is noteworthy that all parties have seen fit to address it in their manifestoes, mostly in the shape of timeframes to end it.

Solutions involve an end to problems that existed before, like theft, or transmission losses. There had been a time when the system met the demand for power placed on it, even as a certain degree of theft took place, even as there were transmission losses. Then, as now, the costs were met by bill-paying customers, who did not mind so much - firstly, because they were given a guaranteed source of power, and secondly, because they were not made to pay so much. The raising of the bills has been a perennial demand of the IMF and World Bank, but it does not seem to be working. The theory is that if the cost of electricity goes up, demand should go down. This does not take into account the fact that demand for electricity is not that price elastic.

There is also the factor that increases in electricity price raises the costs in certain export industries, with the result that many have closed, and all have seen their products priced out of the world market. However, while the harmful effects of a price rise have taken place, the beneficial effect of a decline in demand has not. The demand-supply gap persists.

The gap is not between installed capacity and demand, so much as between available capacity and demand. However, there is a Planning Commission estimate that sees the gap as persisting to 2020. In other words, the foreseeable future. Another telling detail is that the estimate does not mention the time when the gap would be at an end, but just when it would be greatly reduced.

One problem has been the attempt of the PPP government to impose an ancient solution on the problem. In 1993, when the second Benazir government came to office, there was a full-blown power crisis, which it met by inducting the Independent Power Producers. As in the 1980s, loadshedding went away, during the second Prime Ministership of Mian Nawaz Sharif, but it was back, as rising demand once more outstripped capacity. When the PPP returned to office, it tried that solution again, ending up with the RPPs fiasco. Perhaps worse, loadshedding did not come to an end.

The caretaker government, and probably the incoming elected government, will not be able to solve the loadshedding problem. However, there should be a movement towards a solution, in the form of an executive decision to pursue projects that meet the national interest, like the Kalabagh Dam. It is ironical that Kalabagh was conceived, like Mangla and Tarbela, as a water storage, and hydel was merely a by-product, but now the power is more important. The benefits of additional water storage will also be available, which will be all the more necessary, as water is the looming crisis, as Pakistan moves from the ranks of the water-stressed, which it has reached, to those of the water scarce.

Whichever party, or combination of parties, forms the government, loadshedding will be a symbol of performance and commitment. Failure to end it will reflect badly, perhaps even fatally, on the government. The problem, if it goes away because of installation of additional generation capacity, will recur, both because Pakistan’s population is growing and because its economy is expanding. However, no government will be able to tackle this problem if it takes office in the midst of a full-scale power crisis.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of TheNation.