Hundred days on – Journal
OUR recent governments have run out of steam and become lame ducks long before their term. But PML-N broke the PTI record by doing it within 100 days – oddly enough, the only way it has so far shown the legendary “Shehbaz speed”. Deprived of its usual big themes of civilian influence, big projects, a strong rupee and peace with India, its regime is a sad figure.
How did it end like this? The main reason is to take power after the vote of non-confidence. The clearly legal decision to end the PTI’s rule also made political sense, given the PTI’s uncertain mandate and fears it could appoint a favored army chief before the 2023 elections. made no sense because of the tough economic decisions that lay ahead. A negotiated dissolution via a threat of a vote of no confidence, with an interim regime making tough economic decisions on fuel prices, etc., to allow a quick agreement with the IMF after the polls could avoid this great political and economic crisis . But since it was Shehbaz Sharif’s way that made non-neutrals neutral, Nawaz Sharif had to respond to his constant desire to be prime minister. The expected ferocious attack by a “cornered tiger” (Imran Khan and the fabrication of the American conspiracy) made things difficult. All the time is spent in unsavory battles in the streets, assemblies and courts with the PTI to gain control. Weak PDM numbers in Central and Punjab, in part due to rigged 2018 polls, made matters worse, as did divisions within the PML-N and PDM. Finally, uncertain court rulings, for example on Term 63-A, and global unrest hurt.
Yet even so, there are major advantages to ITP on two fronts. Externally, the key ties Imran ruined with the West and even China and the Gulf states have been mended, giving advantages on the FATF and IMF fronts. Socially, the end of the prime minister’s backsliding sermons and a break on the controversial school curriculum are pluses. Politically, kidnappings continue and public protests have been crushed, as under the PTI, but PTI-like politicized accountability has not begun.
The key area is the economy where the dismal sight of the plummeting rupee has created images of economic doom. The government inherited the second worst of our four economic crises since 2000 but made it worse by its initial indecision over fuel prices kept low by the PTI. Yet despite his slim majority and likely short term, he went on to make brave decisions on fuel prices that stronger regimes often fail to make. However, a shortage of short-term dollar liquidity means the rupiah is still unstable. Although this problem may end in a few weeks, deeper economic problems remain. The budget took more steps to tax elites than any recent budget, though it still suffers from many fairness and adequacy flaws. But the team’s capacity issues, as with all regimes, mean it also lacks the vision to improve exports and the industry to ensure sustainable and equitable growth.
Many analysts still view the incumbents as the lesser evil.
A hundred days is too short to deregister a government. But political problems make his survival uncertain, especially if he loses Punjab. However, despite its huge weaknesses, many neutral analysts still see it as the lesser evil against our other current options – the PTI, Technocracy or Pindi – the only option less worse being perhaps a PDM regime with a broader mandate. But early polls may not show that. So even if he loses Punjab, he can still try to finish the legislature and hold polls at an appropriate election time. It is his legal right if he can retain his majority, and it is common practice around the world.
In order to survive and ensure it will be good for him and Pakistan, he needs to up his game tremendously to face the poisonous political challenge of the PTI more aggressively via media and social media. It must also proactively address economic issues and develop strong legislation and policy narrative at the federal level for our structural issues to distinguish itself from the opportunistic PTI politics full of empty narrative ideas of governance. This covers our problems of eternal twin deficits through taxation, state enterprises, the electricity sector and other reforms; the modernization of exports, industry and agriculture; and legislation on electoral reforms, decentralization, civil capture and judicial issues. For this, he must strengthen his team. While it is strong in finance, planning and power, it needs new quality talents for trade, industry, investment, state restructuring, education, human rights man and health.
Pindi, largely responsible for today’s mess, could still intervene for the first polls. The PDM can refuse this. If the establishment invokes a vote of non-confidence, this could bring the PTI back into the assembly. But this would lead the PDM to reclaim its original anti-Pindi and victim status from Imran and portray him as pro-establishment. In such a scenario, the PDM could make a comeback.
The author is a political economist with a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley.
Posted in Dawn, July 26, 2022