Challenges for PTI in 2022

'Despite underperformance and almost total failure to fulfill even half of the promises, Prime Minister Khan seems adamant and expects a better show in the year ahead. The premier, however, may not see the looming challenges'

Ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) entered into the fourth year of its first term in power in late 2021. The incumbent government had a mix of highs and lows throughout the year. Politically, PTI wouldn’t wish to have another year like 2021 as it lost several by-elections across Pakistan despite being in power. PTI’s woeful run continued towards end of the year when KPK electorate handed the party an unwanted defeat in first phase of local government (LG) elections. The KPK LG elections defeat shuddered PTI as it was ruling the province since 2013 and claimed to have brought structural changes there.

Dwindling economic situation and governance woes continued to haunt PTI last year. The US dollar hit an all-time high whereas the trade deficit widened 34.3 percent from the fiscal year 2019-2020. Although Pakistan’s exports increased last year despite the deadly pandemic situation, imports also continued to outpace exports by a wide margin, mounting pressure on balance of payment (BOP). Frequent shuffling-reshuffling of public service servants in Punjab didn’t bring any respite. The largest province continued to grapple with smog, dengue and intermittent wheat and sugar crises. Lofty talks of administrative reforms and changes into National Accountability Bureau (NAB) laws either never discussed or simply shelved without putting in serious efforts. Apparently PTI’s governance model, as pitched by Prime Minister Imran Khan during electoral campaigns, failed to deliver.

Despite underperformance and almost total failure to fulfill even half of the promises, PM Khan seems adamant and expects a better show in the year ahead. The premier, however, may not see the looming challenges ahead.

Ever since the PTI assumed charge, inflation hit masses severely and 2021 was no exception whereas the trend will, most likely, continue in 2022. Jolted with the coronavirus pandemic, the masses already have had enough of inflation but the upcoming supplementary economic budget will add more miseries, especially for the salaried class. PTI is aware of the situation as many of its leaders acknowledge that the party’s KPK LG defeat was a result of the inflation. If we go by that justification, it will be the same in Punjab where LG polls are scheduled for March. Mini-budget, according to leading economists, will open the flood gates of inflation. So, is PTI bracing for another defeat?

PTI’s losing streak in by-elections spanned from January through December, from Peshawar to Karachi and Lahore. 2022 may not be a year of by-polls but PTI will see the opposition riling up to take the government down. PDM has announced an inflation-March from March 23 whereas PPP too declared anti-government long-March from February 27. Although PDM’s previous drives to oust government have been wholly unsuccessful, mainly because all member parties of the coalition had their respective agendas, they might unite this time around as none seems to be happy with the passage of the electronic voting machine (EVM) bill. Also, all parties would like to carry forward momentum to next general elections and a united effort towards this cause would work for them.

On the other hand PTI will have a challenge to keep the coalition parties happy and united. Already signs of mistrust appeared when Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) exhibited displeasure over local government act (though PML-Q publicly says differences have been resolved) and is gearing up for solo-flight in the LG polls. Mutahidda Quami Movement (MQM) folks met with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leadership and vowed to work collectively in future. PTI consists of ‘fair-weather’ friends who would readjust their loyalties in the wake of political situations. The Jahangir Khan Tarin episode was one prime example how things can change rapidly.

Toothless accountability drive, gossip of leading opposition parties’ (PMLN and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)) deal with the establishment, foreign-funding case, balancing ties with the military and increasing fertilizers and petrol prices are some of the other worries that PTI will come across throughout 2022.

There has been a history in Pakistan that ruling parties usually start focusing on deliverance towards the end of the mandated term. They pour development funds and initiate short to medium range social welfare schemes ahead of election year. PTI is no different here. It has started a much touted health-card scheme quite recently, initiated a subsidized Ehsas-ration program and will start allocating mammoth funds to its members of parliament (MPs) towards mid of the year. Political pundits, however, believe that time for delivering on lofty promises is too short. PTI is having a race against time. If results do not pour in within weeks, PDM march or Punjab LG polls could become triggering points towards the magnificent downfall of the hybrid regime.