Amid worrying macroeconomic trends, the issues preoccupying the diplomatic/donor community in Islamabad these days are curiously non-economic. Will 2022 be the year the much speculated political change takes place? If new elections are called this year, will the PTI-led government be able to renew its mandate? Or will another political party (read ‘PML-N’) come to power?
While speculation on these matters is best left to political analysts (who should postulate at their own risk), it is clear that the last thing the economy needs is another wave of political instability. Political constraints dictate economic decision-making around the world, and this has been particularly the case in Pakistan. Therefore, if the ruling party is unable to make tougher decisions (the mini-budget was a badass), or if a new party came along with all its populist weapons, it would derail macroeconomic stabilization. .
Given the entrenched nature of multiple crises, who wants to come to power anyway? And the dashboard doesn’t look good on either side of the aisle. Pakistan’s economic challenges, which are of a chronic nature, continue to feed on the inability of the PTI government to have sound economic management. What makes matters worse is this overreliance on fanciful, comforting narratives that externalize crises to imaginary causes and urge audiences to consume less of this and more of that.
While the government and its clingy allies are likely to have their tough day on the ballot this year or next, their political opposition (whether individual party or alliance) cannot be blamed either. to have a convincing economic roadmap. The opposition as a collective has remained a hobbled group for the most part since the 2018 election – attribute it to the myriad court cases engulfing leading opposition politicians, or the coronavirus that canceled their rallies, or the internal conflicts that thwarted PDM’s plans.
But what of the capital, which exudes a palpable feeling that something akin to a political earthquake – either from internal change or an early call for parliamentary elections – is brewing? The perception of impending change is attributed to growing political pressure on Prime Minister Imran Khan from many quarters. There is the much publicized break with the establishment, then the heavy loss of local body elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and now there are growing public divisions within the PTI.
Beware, however, reports of the political demise of an incumbent government have always been overstated in this country. For example, former President Asif Ali Zardari was struck off several times before completing his term in 2013; Ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lasted three years after his political obituaries began circulating in mid-2014. As for Prime Minister Khan, theories about his ouster continue to compete, despite evidence that this regime continues to remain in a difficult balance in the midst of setbacks.
For now, the PTI-led government is plodding along, weighed down by economic challenges (e.g. controlling inflation, recovering the IMF loan facility) as well as political difficulties (e.g. getting establishment side, dealing with internal party differences). Like the PML-N and PPP governments before it, the home stretch of the PTI government makes it a lame administration. Prime Minister Khan may have a trick up his sleeve to challenge this political trend – let’s see if he chooses to exercise it in the coming months.