Facing a divided opposition, the PTI hopes not only to complete a full term but also secure a second term in 2023
Imran Khan is one of Pakistan’s great success stories; cricket, social work, politics, he has succeeded in all his endeavours. He has charisma and glamour but over the last three years he has lost some of the popular support. He is currently fighting to regain it. Facing a divided opposition the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) hopes not only to complete a full term but also to securing a second term in 2023.
Like his 24 years in politics, Imran’s three years in government have been a mix of good and bad decisions. However, luck has favoured him. He has hardly faced a stiff challenge since he was elected as prime minister in 2018, from what appeared then to be a powerful opposition.
The PTI’s success can be viewed as the triumph of a democratic transition in Pakistan and continuity of the parliamentary system since 2008. Some critics, however, continue to label the current government as a ‘selected’ one. The term, coined by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, implies that he benefitted from hidden support from the powerful establishment through alleged electoral rigging and post-election manipulation. This is an accusation the PTI has repeatedly denied.
The PTI’s political failures stem from decisions both in the party and in the government. For instance, many of the founding members are no longer with the party. This includes veteran like Hamid Khan, the author of PTI constitution who believes that Imran Khan has deviated from the party’s principles and taken on many unsavoury people.
Like other mainstream political parties, a system of ‘nominations’ has been introduced in the party following the only elections held in 2013. Even those were questioned by the anti-Jehangir Tareen group led by Hamid Khan. The party’s Election Commission had then held Jehangir Khan Tareen and Aleem Khan responsible and recommended action against them. Today, Tareen is leading a dissident group and is not on talking terms with Khan.
Many of the PTI’s founding members are no longer with the party.
While in power the PTI has also failed to introduce major reforms in civil service, police, criminal-justice system and in support of freedom of the Press — making the PTV, the Radio Pakistan and the APP autonomous has been in vain.
On the positive side, the economic indicators are finally encouraging and some of the steps taken by the government to uplift the lower classes and peasants are promising. The Sehat Card, the low-income housing and loans for the poor can be great initiatives. Executed well, these can help the PTI win the next elections.
The government’s biggest challenge at home has been price control. It has also failed to bring about a system of across the board accountability as all NAB efforts are targetted towards political opponents. In the process, the government has faced serious financial scams relating to the BRT, prices of medicines, wheat and sugar. The National Accountability Bureau has not be reformed and has kept its reputation of being used to target the opposition since its formation during General Pervez Musharraf’s government.
Additionally, the government and opposition are not on a single page on the question of electoral reforms that the PTI desperately wants. These include electronic voting and vote for overseas Pakistanis. The latter requires a constitutional amendment. The PTI government may now use the option of calling a joint session of the National Assembly and the Senate or reach an understanding with the PPP.
The PTI government can also claim credit for its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Pakistan did not face some of the worst situations faced by countries like the US, the UK, Spain, Germany and India. Its death rate so far remains lower than the median and it seems to have found the right balance between lockdowns and ensuring that essential economic activities do not stop altogether.
The author is a senior journalist and former secretary general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.