Pakistan's outgoing government has become the first in the nation's history to complete a full term. The prime minister praised the accomplishment in a televised address and expressed hope that it continues.
As the clock struck midnight in Islamabad overnight on Saturday, the country's coalition government officially ended its five-year term, becoming the first in Pakistan's history to do so since its birth in 1947.
Pakistan still had many problems, but the political milestone showed promise for the nation's future, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf (pictured above in a previous press conference) said in a televised address.
"There is a long history of tussle between the democratic and undemocratic forces in Pakistan, but the democratic forces have finally achieved a victory," the prime minister said.
In its short history as a republic, three military coups have made successful power grabs and political turmoil has remained persistent. But the president, military and opposition groups have refrained from moves that threatened to destabilize the government over the past five years.
The current coalition government and President Asif Ali Zadari came to power in 2008, after General Pervez Musharraf was forced to relinquish his office. President Zadari is the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in late 2007 by a suicide attacker at a political rally.
"Though we did not succeed in turning the country into a land of milk and honey, we still curtailed the problems of the past and made the foundations of democracy so strong that no one can derail it," said Ashraf.
In his televised address, Ashraf recounted the accomplishments and shortcomings of the past five years. Thanks to his Pakistan People's Party (PPP), a successful military offensive drove Taliban forces out of the Swat valley in 2009. He had also pruned extra powers his predecessor, Musharraf, had given to government leaders.
An energy crisis continues to leave Pakistan without power all too often, a problem Ashraf said he hoped a recent Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project would help resolve.
Most of all, the prime minister stressed the importance of ensuring fair elections.
"I appeal to all political parties, national institutions, civil society and mass media to complete the election process in an independent, peaceful and pleasant environment."
Elections must take place within a 60-day period following the dissolution of the government, according to Pakistan's constitution.
Meanwhile, the opposition discussed possible candidates for the transition government.
"This is going to be a make or break election for Pakistan," opposition party leader Shahbaz Sharif told a news conference in Punjab's capital, Lahore, on Saturday.
kms/jm (AFP, AP, dpa)