Pakistan's Mulk Takes Charge as Caretaker Premier Before Polls

(Bloomberg) -- Nasir-ul-Mulk, a former chief justice, took charge as Pakistan’s caretaker prime minister on Friday with a mandate of running the government until a new administration is elected in a nationwide poll next month.

President Mamnoon Hussain took the oath of office from Mulk in the capital, Islamabad, hours after the five-year rule of the beleaguered Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party came to an end. This week ex-premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and opposition leader Syed Khursheed Shah came to an agreement over Mulk’s appointment and to hold elections for Parliament’s lower house and the four state assemblies on July 25.

This is only the second time that a civilian government has completed its full term in Pakistan, where the powerful military has directly ruled the country for almost half of its 70-year existence. The PML-N, headed by ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, will now face an intense election battle against its main rival, Imran Khan -- a former cricket star who leads the Movement for Justice party. Khan has relentlessly dogged Sharif’s party over alleged corruption charges that led to Sharif’s disqualification from the top job last July.

A criminal court trial is still ongoing against Sharif and his three children after the Panama Paper leaks in 2016 showed his family used offshore companies to buy high-end London apartments. They have denied any wrong doing.

Pre-election campaigning has also been marred by media blackouts, censorship and alleged military interference and the political instability has hurt the $300 billion economy, which is facing rising debt and a widening current account deficit. Many economists believe the new government will have to seek an International Monetary Fund bailout after the elections.

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