ISLAMABAD - President Asif Ali Zardari Wednesday announced that general elections for the National Assembly will be held on May 11, ending speculations about the day of political judgement.

The 342-member national assembly stood dissolved on completion of its five-year term on March 16 and the vote is expected to produce first transition from one civilian government to another in country’s 66-year existence.

Spokesperson to President Senator Farhatullah Babar said the president announced the date shortly after he received prime minister’s summary the same day who advised for announcing a suitable date in terms of Article 48 (1) of the constitution and other relevant statutory provisions.

It was not immediately clear if the polls for four provincial assembles would also be held on May 11. However, a senior government official told The Nation that provincial elections would also be held on the same day. He denied there was any difference between the political parties that might change the election date for the provincial assemblies, adding that respective provincial governors would announce the date for provincial polls.

Presidential spokesperson said that Section 11 (1) of the Representation of the People Act 1976 says, “As soon as may be necessary and practicable‚ the president makes an announcement of the date or dates on which the polls shall be taken‚ the election commission‚ not later than thirty days of such announcement shall‚ by notification in the official gazette‚ call upon a constituency to elect a representative or representatives.”

The election commission is believed to have finalised the election schedule but details were not immediately released. A parliamentary committee has until Friday to select a candidate to head a caretaker administration. It was given the job after major ruling party, PPP, and main opposition PML-N failed to reach a consensus on a name by Tuesday.

The vote will mark the first time an elected civilian government hands over power to another in a country that has seen three military coups and four military rulers since independence in 1947. But Taliban attacks and record levels of violence have raised fears about security for the polls in the nuclear-armed country of 180 million, a key but troubled US ally.

Political analyst Hasan Askari said that by setting a date, the president had gone some way towards curbing conspiracy theories about a possible delay. “The dust should settle now... it is clear the election will be held but distrust or doubts will go away when the caretaker prime minister is chosen,” he said.

President Zardari’s PPP and the opposition PML-N led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif are likely to dominate the race, while former cricket star Imran Khan’s PTI, which has seen a meteoric rise over past couple of years, will compete in the general elections for the first time. Zardari and assassinated former PM Benazir Bhutto’s son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is co-chairman of the PPP but he cannot contest elections because he will not reach the minimum age of 25 until September.

Sixty seats in the national assembly are reserved for women and 10 for non-Muslim minorities. Under reforms introduced by the outgoing government, political parties can for the first time contest elections in the tribal belt along the Afghan border where army is fighting Taliban and al-Qaeda militants. There are no seats reserved for women in the tribal belt.

Once the national and provincial governments are formed, federal and regional lawmakers will elect a new president. Analysts praise Zardari for lasting the course, passing key legislation and relinquishing his powers to strengthen democracy, but say his rule has been marked by chronic mismanagement, worse kind of corruption, economic decline and worsening security.

 They credit his full term not just his wheeler-dealer talents, but also the army chief’s determination to keep to the sidelines and the opposition’s unwillingness to force early elections.

Karachi, the largest city and business hub, is suffering from record killings, with more than 2,000 dead in 2012. The government did little to end a crippling energy crisis or introduce desperately needed tax reforms. Ministers have been tainted by accusations of brazen corruption. After the elections, Pakistan is expected to have little option but to seek another bailout package from the IMF, given its yawning budget deficit.