The duty of a caretaker prime minister is to be a steadying hand during a period of transition. He or she has to be apolitical, impartial and dedicated to ensuring the freedom of the upcoming elections. Former Supreme Court chief justice Nasirul Mulk checks all these boxes. He enjoys the support of all the political parties, ensuring that there will be no controversy before the caretaker government has even taken charge. Mulk also has the requisite experience. As a justice of the Supreme Court, he heard the case about allegations of rigging after the last elections and there were no complaints about his performance. He also served as the interim chief election commissioner in 2014 at a time when the government and opposition couldn’t agree on a permanent CEC, and so is well-versed with the workings of the Election Commission of Pakistan. Mulk’s first task will be to appoint competent officers as caretaker ministers. They too will need to enjoy the same reputation for probity that he has.
Even though the duties of a caretaker prime minister are limited by the constitution, Mulk will have to deal with some important matters of state before the July 25 elections. The Financial Action Task Force is to decide Pakistan’s fate in June and has already told the government to prepare a stronger presentation of how it intends to crack down on the financial operations of militant groups if it is to avoid being blacklisted. It would be best to leave this to government officials who have already been working on the issue rather than try a fresh approach. We also need to maintain our relations with friendly countries – with China being of particular importance. A transitory period is not the time for new diplomatic initiatives but an experienced official will be needed as caretaker foreign minister to guarantee continuity. Ultimately, the caretaker government will be judged by how smoothly the elections are conducted. Mulk will not have the authority to transfer government officials or appoint new ones – that duty now belongs to the ECP – but he and his government will have to keep an eye on the preparations for the elections. It is now his job to make sure that the scales are not tipped in favour of any party. Should he do this without igniting any controversy, Mulk will have fulfilled his constitutional duty and helped fortify our democracy by ensuring a smooth transfer of power for an unprecedented third time.