With honeymoon over, reality sets in for the Khan government
On November 29, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, will complete its first 100 days in power – something which is also known as the ‘honeymoon period’ in political circles whereby victors of an electoral battle bask in the glory of their success and optimism fills the air.
While most new governments during this period find their feet, outline priorities, and work toward achieving their flagship development plans, the Khan government is a rare example in Pakistan’s political history that promised an overly-ambitious and unusually-detailed 100-day plan — even before the elections took place in July. This was in addition to a broader election manifesto, which every political party is obliged to offer, explaining its ideological stance and key priorities.
With the 100-day milestone right around the corner, it’s time to analyze how Khan’s government has fared thus far. One way to do this would be by mapping public perception of the government's performance. Another would be to assess, perhaps simultaneously, the specific promises made in the 100-day plan. A broad review on both counts would help decipher if there are any major anomalies between the promises made and the results achieved.
First, let’s look at the public’s perception and its expectation of the governing body. For that, we must consider the fact that apart from forming the central government, the PTI also established governments in the critically-important provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Punjab and Balochistan (with coalition regimes in the latter two). Sindh is the only region where the PTI is not in power. This new governance landscape where the PTI overtly dominates more than two-thirds of the country’s regions presented an opportunity for the party to implement its agenda and quickly establish a reputation of being an achiever.
While most new governments during this period find their feet, outline priorities, and work toward achieving their flagship development plans, the Khan government is a rare example in Pakistan’s political history that promised an overly-ambitious and unusually-detailed 100-day plan — even before the elections took place in July.
And yet Khan has spent the past several weeks – including the last few days – repeatedly defending his choice of chief ministers for both Punjab and KP provinces, widely considered as obscure picks who have spectacularly failed expectations. Chief Minister Punjab Usman Buzdar and Chief Minister KP Mehmood Khan are extremely shy in public and have rarely interacted with the media or appeared in public meetings, while other senior party leaders are widely seen as the real power wielders lurking in the shadows behind them. This generated an impression of an inability on their part to govern, an image which has since stuck on. Moreover, the performance of Khan’s provincial governments has been underwhelming, too.
If this wasn’t bad enough, Khan’s tendency to make policy U-turns have assumed legendary proportions. Whether it was his pre-election claim that he would rather commit suicide than seek help from the International Monetary Fund or his refusal to turn to allies for financial assistance (he has now done both); his promise to recover $200 billion illegally stashed abroad in secret accounts (his finance minister confessed on TV that it was a gimmick and that there’s no such money); his assurance to depoliticize bureaucracy (his government has already been admonished and punished by the Supreme Court for political postings); or his vow to hire people based on merit (he has appointed several friends as paid advisers and special assistants, some of which have been contested by the apex court) --- the ruling party seems to have violated key promises of its 100-day plan.
The top two pledges made by Khan during his inaugural speech were to create 10 million jobs and build five million free homes for the poor. He has not launched a specialized task force or announced a program to work towards creating employment opportunities. However, Khan did initiate a scheme to construct five million homes and invited applications for the same. A month later, however, it was announced that each applicant would have to pay 20 percent as down payment for a house, at an average price of Rs1.5 million, thereby effectively restricting the poor segments of the society for whom the initiative was conceptualized in the first place. The result? Not even half a million applications have been received thus far.
Khan’s is the first government, in decades, which has been subjected to harsh media criticism and widespread ridicule on social media, thereby dramatically losing popularity. He created several task forces to suggest ambitious reforms but questions about their performances are met with deafening silence. Maybe he has a surplus of policies up his sleeve to be announced on the 100th day of assuming power. However, the fact that he promised to introduce a Prime Minister’s Question Hour in the National Assembly -- to hold himself accountable every week -- but has yet to establish it despite being in office for 10 weeks is a reason to question his promises. Maybe it will all change after the premier crosses the 100-day mark, but for now, the sun seems to be setting on his government’s honeymoon period.
– Adnan Rehmat is a Pakistan-based journalist, researcher and analyst with interests in politics, media, development and science. Twitter: @adnanrehmat1