Pakistan's parliament elections delayed till early February as political and economic crises deepen

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s election oversight body on Thursday postponed the country's upcoming parliament elections for the second time, saying the vote — originally expected in November and then scheduled for the last week of January — will instead take place in February.

The Election Commission of Pakistan said the balloting would be held on Feb. 8, a date chosen following consultations with the country's President Arif Alvi that were requested by the country’s Supreme Court. It did not elaborate.

Earlier, the commission had sought more time to prepare the vote and redraw constituencies on the electoral map to reflect the latest census.

Pakistan's imprisoned former premier and top opposition leader Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party is a strong contender in the race, had voiced fears the vote could be delayed indefinitely.

Khan himself is not eligible to run because of his corruption sentence. He also faces scores of legal cases on myriad charges, including revealing state secrets, incitement to violence and terrorism. The charges were levelled under the government of Khan's successor and top rival, former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

Pakistan has been in deepening political turmoil since April 2022, when Khan was removed from office in a no-confidence vote in Parliament. He was arrested in early August on corruption charges, convicted and sentenced to three years.

Khan’s political rivals, including the parties of Sharif and former President Asif Zardari are likely to face a tough contest in the vote. Sharif has failed to improve the ailing economy, though he was able to save Pakistan from a possible default.

The South Asian country of 241 million people is currently facing one of the worst economic crises in its history, which has sparked anti-inflation protests.

The parliament was dissolved in August, after its five-year term expired. Currently, caretaker Premier Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar is running day-to-day affairs of the state.

Like Khan, Sharif's brother and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is not eligible to run for a parliament seat because of a 2018 conviction in several graft cases. He returned home in September, ending four years of self-imposed exile in London, but still has to face his day in court.