What’s in store for Imran Khan now?
Pakistan’s national election held on July 25 was a massive endeavour that has generated hope as well as despair. The enormity of the task evolved from holding an election in a country with a population of nearly 200 million.
Since independence in 1947, Pakistan has oscillated between civilian and military rule. This election has marked the second time that one civilian government has handed power to another after serving a full term -- a historic landmark.
After the polls closed on July 25, several political groups alleged that vote-rigging had taken place in polling stations -- something that was denied by election officials. Representatives from several parties also claimed that their polling agents were expelled from polling stations during vote count and were denied certified copies of results -- breaching election procedures.
A number of PML-N candidates also mentioned that they were told by the intelligence and security services to defect from the party. Similarly, some journalists claimed that they were given instructions not to report stories sympathetic to Nawaz Sharif or his brother Shehbaz Sharif.
Consequently, it was not a surprise that the Pakistan Election Commission faced severe criticism. These charges led some to question the legitimacy of the polls. The Pakistani military has denied interfering in the political process.
It has also been alleged that there was an unnecessary delay in the proclamation of results because of deliberate misuse of powers at different polling stations.
Election officials have, however, pointed out that this delay in releasing the results was simply due to technical failures in the electronic reporting system. This led to the votes being counted manually -- and that took time.
Despite all the controversy, the Pakistan Election Commission authorities appear to have received an indirect pat on the back from the European Election Observation Mission in Pakistan.
They pointed out that the army was deployed under a code of conduct and that they had strictly followed it.
Their monitoring also said that the election campaign featured a “lack of equality.”
These observations appear to have toned down some of the ongoing criticism.
The final results revealed that former cricket star Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party ended up with the largest number of successful candidates among the National Assembly constituencies. He has rubbished all the accusations of election tampering. Imran Khan ran in the election with the flag of fighting corruption.
This seems to have captured the imagination of the younger generation. They appear to have moved towards his party because of his repeated assurance that if he could take on the reins of government, then there would be better, accountable, and transparent governance and this would facilitate socio-economic and human development. Consequently, 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 was that, unlike his political rivals in the two major parties -- PML-N and the PPP, he does not come from a political dynasty, and his party has never held power. Imran Khan ran in the election from five different constituencies spread out all over Pakistan. He won in all five.
It may also be noted that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has 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.
Imran Khan has offered an olive branch to the opposition and has said that he would be happy to help them investigate any case of irregularity.
He has also pledged that there would be no political victimization 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 and vowed policies to pull the poor out of the poverty trap. He also said he would strive to have harmonious relations with all neighbours.
Whether the opposition will accept this olive branch remains to be seen. Imran Khan and his party will also 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. In this context 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.
If the opposition parties can effectively unite, they may be able to challenge Imran Khan. Analysts are saying that such a scenario might harass and distract the new. However, as it stands now, with the military’s support, Imran Khan should not have too much fear on that account.
The new PM will have to focus on implementing his wide-ranging reform agenda that prioritizes 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 $12 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.
In the arena of foreign affairs, according to strategic analysts, he will also 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 the 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 $62bn 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 won in a “general’s election” rather than a general election.
Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]