Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s statement that elections may be held soon after the budget, shows a change in the government’s stand. Because of such shifts, it becomes easy for the PPP setup to keep its opponents guessing. Interestingly, Mr Gilani only recently categorically stated that there could be no chance of elections before February 2013. His U-turn on the issue has left many in the opposition confused about the intent of the government.

During the past few months, the government has come under increasing pressure because of the prevailing economic crisis, energy shortage and law and order situation. A number of political parties in the opposition keep urging the government to go for early elections for a smooth democratic transition. But the PPP, and particularly Mr Gilani always came out with the mantra that the government would serve out its maximum term. How he has suddenly seen fit to hold early elections, is now a subject for speculation. There are rumours that the budget may be tailor-made to appeal to the downtrodden in order to strengthen its voter base. Closely related to it is the factor of the Senate elections, where the effort of the PPP would be to secure maximum number of seats in order to retain power in the Upper House of Parliament. And if it manages to secure a majority then that means that the next National Assembly will have to get its bills passed by it, a huge vantage point for the PPP. If these reports are true, it would again show the tendency of the PPP to secure its interest, come what may. The federal government must begin making suitable arrangements for ensuring free and fair elections held under an independent election commission. Many observers have expressed reservations already, at the idea of a caretaker setup headed by President Zardari.

Imran Khan has already threatened that blood would be spilled on the streets if rigging is committed in elections. It is hardly reassuring that 37 million bogus votes have yet to be erased from the voter rolls and the election commission has already pleaded with the Supreme Court that it needs time to get its affairs in order. Concurrently the registration of new voters is also a task that needs diligent attention. Early elections would suit the country but only if they are held freely and impartially.