“The ballot is stronger than the bullet.”
– Abraham Lincoln
Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who entered politics in 1996, won this election on the promise of “Naya Pakistan”. His main theme was a corruption-free Pakistan, especially after his determined pursuit of Panama Papers case against Nawaz Sharif that led to the former PM’s disqualification, conviction and jailing. It has been clear from 2013 that the Pakistan Army, which describes itself as “stake holder”, was unhappy with Sharif. In the event, this will go down in Pakistan’s history as an election in which the security establishment’s role was an open national secret. Now that the army has got the government it wanted, there is a possibility that formal talks with India could be started. The Prime Minister designate Imran Khan stressed that the blame game needs to stop between two countries over Kashmir and Balochistan and said: “If India takes one step towards us, we will take two towards them. Right now, it is one-sided where India is constantly blaming us.” The army’s objective has been achieved; Imran will become Prime Minister and the Sharifs’ challenge will have to await another election, if at all. Interestingly, if the present trend holds, the PML(N) will be the single largest party in Punjab provincial assembly, but is unlikely to form the government.
But the first major challenge Imran Khan will face as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan is from the opposition parties. In the general elections, his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party managed to win 115 of 272 general seats in the National Assembly. This is short of the 137 seats needed to form a government, but PTI gained just enough support from some independents and smaller parties to do so. PTI’s tally may come down to 109 after those who contested from twin constituencies step down from one of the seats. The total numbers of seats in the Assembly are 342, with 70 of them reserved for religious minorities and women, which are allocated in proportion to the winning numbers in contested seats. On the other hand, the opposition, by contrast, is only narrowly behind PTI in the numbers game. Four major parties have announced their intention to form a grand opposition alliance against PTI, and with more than 110 seats between them plan to give Imran Khan’s government a tough time for the next five years. Given its strength in the National Assembly, the opposition will make every effort to topple this government, which will result in political uncertainty. The government will not be in a position to pass amendments to the constitution, which requires the support of two thirds of all members, forcing it to rely on opposition support for any major decision.
Arguably, the biggest challenge faced by Pakistan is in the form of an economic crisis. Khan built his election campaign around the idea of a prosperous future for Pakistan, and acknowledged the severity of the economic crisis in his victory speech. Pakistan’s economy has struggled in the past decade, largely due to a mix of poor security conditions following a spate of terrorist attacks and poor governance. If Imran Khan forms a new government it can be assumed that he will be more willingly guided by Pakistan army, and also will have his task cut out on economic front.