Imran Khan faces tough tasks ahead

Muhammad Zamir | Published: August 05, 2018 21:41:27 | Updated: August 05, 2018 22:21:16

Pakistan's national elections, held on July 25, was a massive exercise that has generated hope as well as despair. Since its birth in 1947, the country has oscillated between civilian and military rule. When the newly elected government will take office, it will be the second time that one civilian government would hand over power to another civilian government after serving a full term - a historic landmark, indeed.

The elections to Pakistan's National Assembly were for 272 seats. There is, besides, the provision of additional 60 reserved seats for women and 10 seats for religious minorities (to be distributed on the basis of proportional representation among political parties after the election). This means the National Assembly will be composed of 342 seats.

There were 105.9 million registered voters -  59.2 million males and 46.7 million females. There were 3,765 candidates from 110 registered political parties of whom 30 have been active in the recent past. 800,000 troops were deployed in 85,000 polling stations. The electoral process included simultaneous elections to 571 seats in four Provincial Assemblies in four provinces.

After the polls closed on  July 25, there were allegations of vote rigging and other irregularities.  Unusual delays in the announcement of unofficial results in dozens of constituencies, especially in the crucial province of Punjab which has been a stronghold of PML-N, drew wide attention.  Leaders of two political parties, Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), subjected the Pakistan Election Commission to severe criticisms.

There were allegations of attempts to muzzle the media. Hameed Haroon, CEO of the Dawn Media Group, earlier accused the security establishment of interfering in politics. Ahead of the elections, the PML-N complained of a targeted crackdown by the security establishment, with the alleged help of the courts, in favour of Imran's PTI party.

The Pakistani military has however denied interfering in the political process.

Despite all the controversies, the Pakistan Election Commission authorities have received a pat on the back from Michael Gahler, Chief Observer of the European Election Observation Mission in Pakistan. A statement the Observation Mission said that 60 EU Observers had visited as many as 500 polling stations in 87 constituencies in different parts of the country except for Baluchistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Michael Gahler himself visited four polling stations. It pointed out that the Army was deployed under a code of conduct and that they had strictly followed it. It, however, observed that the election campaign featured a "lack of equality".

Former cricket star Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party ended up with the largest number of successful candidates in the National Assembly election. Imran Khan ran in the election with the slogan of fighting corruption. This seems to have caught the imagination of the younger generation. Many voters appear to have seen him and his party as a "change" factor. The other aspect that appears to have worked in his favour is that unlike his political rivals in the two major parties, Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), he does not come from a political dynasty, and his party has never held power.

The Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) have won less than half of the 182 seats that they won during the previous 2013 election. Charges of corruption and efforts to become closer to India and Afghanistan have been the two likely causes for their debacle.

Analysts have made some interesting observations with regard to the multiple challenges that would have to be faced by Imran Khan and his ruling Party in the coming months after they take over political leadership in post-election Pakistan.

It has been reported that speaking in a televised address on July 26, Imran Khan pledged that there would be no political victimisation and all state institutions would be strengthened so that they could retain their independence. He has also assured that he would set a personal example of austerity and offer himself for accountability so that a corruption-free society could be realized. He vowed to implement policies to pull the poor out of the poverty trap. He pledged  to strive to have harmonious relations with all neighbours.

Most crucially, Imran Khan and his party will have to ensure continuity of good relations with the military which was seen as supportive of his party throughout the campaign period. At the same time, he will also have to safeguard his own credibility by not appearing to be the junior partner of the military. He will have to demonstrate that he is the key decision maker as the elected civilian leader of the country.

The first, and probably the most important difficulty that he will have to overcome, is to create a coalition of the willing. Much of the developments in the coming days are likely to be also shaped by how strongly the opposition parties (PML-N, PPP and the MMA ) can join forces in Islamabad and also in Punjab. If the opposition parties can effectively unite they may be able to challenge Imran as Khan did after the last election in 2013. Analysts are saying that such a scenario might harass and distract the new government after the swearing-in of Imran as Prime Minister on August  11. However, as it stands now, with the military's support, Imran Khan should not have too much fear on that account.

The new Prime Minister will have to focus sooner than later on implementing his wide-ranging reform agenda that prioritises the economy and the creation of 10 million new jobs. Pakistan's external deficit is mounting, its foreign exchange reserves dwindling and the value of its currency is depreciating. In this context it will be useful for him and his team to work out the US$ 12 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In the arena of foreign affairs, according to strategic analysts, Imran will have to engage with his supporters in the armed forces to plot a course in partnership to try and convince the Taliban to remain engaged with Kabul via interlocutors. It may be recalled that in the recent past the Trump administration has been leaning hard on Pakistan to get tough with Afghan Taliban allegedly present on Pakistani soil. Equally, more constructive efforts will be required to improve relations with India and identify measures that will reduce tension in Kashmir. The new government will also need to ensure China stays committed to its planned US $62 billion investment in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that is expected to develop direly-needed infrastructure for Pakistan.

All these challenges will be tough for a coalition government that will continue to face criticism from a section of the media and several political parties who believe that Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party won in a "general's election" exercise rather than a general election.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information

and good governance.


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