Three challenges – 31 Jul 2022

Pakistan’s coalition government is facing three major challenges – legal, political and economic – at the moment. Even though legal and political challenges are important and must be dealt with in a timely manner, the most important challenge is the revival of the economy. The government’s failure to revive the economy and contain both the rising inflation and the rising dollar will further exacerbate the political and legal challenges.

The recent SC decision to remove Hamza Shehbaz as CM Punjab and declare Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi as the CM of Punjab has apparently strained relations between the chief justice and the government.

Leaders of the ruling coalition recently held hard-hitting press conferences and criticized the ruling of the Supreme Court. The government is unhappy that ‘certain’ Supreme Court judges continue to hear important political and constitutional matters in which the ruling coalition is one of the parties.

It seems that the confrontation between the CJ and the government will intensify in the coming days. Both sides are sticking to their guns. The federal government wants to introduce judicial reforms which include containing the power of the chief justice to form benches and take suo-motu notices.

It seems that the ruling coalition is likely to adopt an anti-judiciary political narrative for future election campaigns. It may continue to blame certain elements in the judiciary and establishment for destabilizing the government in Islamabad. This narrative will pose more legal challenges for it.

The Supreme Court is already hearing the petitions filed by the PTI against amendments made in the NAB ordinance and electoral reforms. The PTI looks determined to take every piece of legislation passed by parliament to the Supreme Court and ask the apex court to intervene in every matter as it wants to force the government to announce elections immediately. The Supreme Court will be the centre of the legal battle between the two political camps. The situation might get more tense on the legal front in the coming days.

The biggest political challenge for the ruling coalition is Imran Khan. Even though the popularity of the former PM dipped when he was in power, he made a strong comeback after his ouster in April, and now poses a serious challenge to his rival parties. His popularity has significantly increased, and his political position is much stronger now that his allies have formed the government in Punjab.

Imran Khan is in a much better position to exert more pressure on the federal government to call elections. With the help of the Punjab government, he can generate more public pressure on the coalition government in Islamabad.

The Elahi government in Punjab poses a serious political challenge to the PML-N in Punjab. He will now try to win over some electables from the PML-N to weaken the party before the next general elections. He will do whatever is possible for him to strengthen his political position in the province. The PML-N will have to work quite hard to keep its house in order.

The other political challenge is to keep the coalition intact. Under the conditions of a severe economic crisis, it will not be easy for the government to keep every coalition partner happy. The economic crisis has significantly limited the ability of the deferral government to doll out development projects and other financial incentives to coalition partners. The unity among the coalition partners is crucial for the ruling coalition to keep its ship afloat.

The government has so far failed to stop the free fall of the Pakistani rupee against the dollar. The rupee has lost Rs36 in value in the month of July alone. A falling rupee and a strong dollar have led to an astronomical increase in the prices of food, energy and other essential items. The poor and the working class are suffering the most. The cost of living crisis has made life miserable and a living hell.

The rate of unemployment is rising as different industries have started to lay off their workers. Poverty will increase as the result of rising unemployment and falling incomes. The burden of taxes has made small enterprises and businesses more vulnerable.

I carried out a small survey in four different markets of Lahore; many shops, other than food and grocery stores, are experiencing a decline in sales from 30 per cent to 50 per cent. Many people are buying just food items and other essentials of daily life.

Owners of small shops say that they find it hard to finance their monthly expenses and that house and shop rents are going up but the incomes of the working people are not rising. A sudden increase in transport fares is also hurting the people badly.

The political fortunes of the ruling coalition largely depend on its performance on the economic front. The government needs to think beyond the bankruptcy of the state. It may be facing a risk of default, but it should be more mindful of the outcome of the measures taken by it to avoid default – most of them have bankrupted large sections of the Pakistani population.

The ruling coalition is desperately looking to complete the remaining one year and is not interested in holding elections immediately. If it wants to complete the term and hold elections in October 2023, it has no other option but to revive the economy and provide relief to the people.

The coalition government has simply shifted the burden of the economic crisis on the shoulders of the already struggling people. It must come up with a plan to rescue the people who are sinking in the economic tsunami.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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