Imran must do more to win back trust of people, allies
Indeed, some allies ditching the cabinet have held the economy partially responsible for their decisions.
Think Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is beginning to feel the pinch? His allies - those few-seaters whose support makes the razor-thin majority government possible - have begun distancing themselves from the federal cabinet (some quitting, others no longer attending). And enough cracks seem to have emerged in partnerships in three provinces to have the prime minister shuttle his senior ministers up and down the country to do something about it. Because if he loses the allies, he loses the government. It's as simple as that.
And the allies aren't happy because Imran didn't keep any of his promises; some didn't get enough (or the right) ministries, others didn't get the development funds promised, and some are still waiting for the kind of legislation promised by the ruling party. That's why pundits who've long made a living out of predicting just when the sitting government is going to collapse have their crystal balls out again.
That, again - if political tradition is anything to go by - is because the usual party-changers who manage to get some positions in almost every government aren't exactly known to make their moves without some sort of push from behind the scenes. That's why everybody was convinced, in the year before the last election, that Imran had landed on the right side of the so-called establishment because the usual suspects were beelining for his party's office. And, sure enough, you can hear similar chatter now that some of them are seemingly headed in the other direction.
But it's not as if all this happened overnight; it had been brewing for a while. Thing is, anybody who banked on Imran was clearly expecting some sort of a positive change - less corruption, constructive legislation, merit, trade, growth, and all that. Instead you see most of the old people in the most senior positions in government (exactly the people Imran held responsible for much of the corruption before his term), no legislation because the opposition is being hounded by the accountability bureau, no longer any talk of merit, and an economy that went through the floor with the change in government.
Plus there's no trusting Imran anymore. He can go back on his most sincere promises at the drop of a hat; doing exactly the same things he used to criticise everybody else to no end for. Just like Imran once liked saying he was "conned by Musharraf," people are increasingly heard saying they, in turn, were conned by Imran.
Ordinarily most normal people going about their daily lives wouldn't give a toss about cabinet nonsense so long as they could make both ends meet. But with increasing joblessness and persistent high inflation pushing close to 10 million people below the poverty line in the last year-and-something alone, public opinion isn't quite what it used to be from PTI's (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) point of view.
Indeed, some allies ditching the cabinet have held the economy partially responsible for their decisions. The only way they can save face before the people, they claim, is by saying that they've at least started disagreeing with the prime minister, and might part ways altogether. And even though the prime minister really seems to believe that the economy would turn around this year and everything would be hunky-dory soon enough, on-ground facts and trends are likely to leave him just as disappointed as everybody else.
The World Bank recently slashed the government's four per cent expected GDP growth target to just around two per cent. Fitch maintained its B- rating for the country, which is not far from junk status. Exports have barely budged 2-3 per cent despite a near 40 per cent devaluation of the rupee. And revenue collection shortfall for the first half of the fiscal year has widened to Rs284 billion (almost $2 billion).
What is more, after defending the high interest rate (at 13.25 per cent) because inflation was too high, the State Bank of Pakistan governor is expected to cut the rate because inflation has not responded and economic activity is being stifled unnecessarily. Makes sense? And what about all the adjectives these people used about people predicting just this because prices were high due to government policies not raging aggregate demand (cost-push as opposed to demand-pull inflation)?
Some press reports suggest that the PM's advisor on finance and the Federal Board of Revenue chairman have started having cat fights during important meetings; the usual 'it's your fault, no it's your fault' accusation and counter-accusation regarding the state of the economy.
With crucial allies straining at the leash and an unresponsive economy embittering more and more people, it won't be long before Imran begins hearing a term he was very fond of for all the two decades that he was in opposition- mid-term elections.
Shahab Jafry is a senior journalist based in Lahore, Pakistan
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