Pakistan’s civilian government has become the first government in Pakistani history to fully complete its five-year term.
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf acknowledged the failings of the government but nevertheless said the completion of the term -- and the expected handover to another civilian government -- had marked a victory for democracy.
Pakistan's military has ruled for approximately half the period since the country’s independence in 1947, staging coups three times.
The outgoing democratically elected government had to contend with a myriad of problems ranging from deadly attacks by Islamic militants to sectarianism, separatism, natural disasters, and the failure of authorities to guarantee regular energy supplies to residents.
"It is true that in the past five years we have not been able to flow rivers of milk and honey," Ashraf said in a televised address. "But we have tried to control the number of problems that we had inherited. We have used all our resources to strengthen the foundations of democracy and - by the grace of Allah -- today democracy is so strong that no one will dare to dislodge it in the future."
In addition to the daunting list of domestic troubles, the outgoing government had to contend with deteriorating relations with the United States, particularly in the aftermath of the 2011 U.S. forces raid that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was living in a compound not far from a key Pakistani military facility.
The government has also been criticized for failing to take effective action against widespread corruption, economic decline, and a worsening security situation.
Ashraf portrayed many of the country's problems as having been inherited from the previous military regime of President General Pervez Musharraf.
In his speech, Ashraf claimed a series of foreign policy successes for the government, including in Pakistan's relations with rival India, and with Afghanistan, Iran, China, and Russia.
"In order to boost peace and trade in the region, we stretched a hand of friendship towards Afghanistan and India so that ties are strengthened and lasting peace and progress in the region is ensured," he said.
"Besides China, we also broadened our ties with Russia. By signing the Gwador Port agreement with China, we opened a new chapter in Pakistan-China relations. Recently, keeping in view the power needs of Pakistan, the presidents of Pakistan and Iran inaugurated the gas pipeline."
Parliament was dissolved at midnight on March 16 upon the expiration of its mandate. A caretaker administration will manage the country’s affairs until general elections are held within 90 days.
Underscoring the deep divisions in Pakistani politics, lawmakers failed to reach consensus on a caretaker government in time for the last parliamentary session.
The Central Election Commission has recommended the holding of elections between May 8 and May 10.
Ashraf appealed to “all political parties, national institutions, civil society, and mass media to complete the election process in an independent, peaceful, and pleasant environment.”
Based on reports from Reuters, AFP, and AP