Can PTI govern with structural constraints? | Pakistan Today

Can PTI govern with structural constraints?

  • Time to put words to action

The Middle East Institute in Washington D.C. recently organised an event concerning Pakistan’s general election and the PTI’s governance dilemmas. The panelists, which included some eminent scholars such as Moeed Yousaf, Michael Kugelman, Arif Rafique among others agreed that Khan will have to struggle when it comes to implementing his reform agenda.

One of the key highlights which remained a point of consensus among scholars was the following:  PTI has brought in a large number of electable into the party and a majority of these electable are traditional politicians with local interests which sit well with the traditional style of politics of patronage and compromises.

While Imran has promised to implement major political and economic reforms which may not take into account electable local interests, the panelists agreed that Khan cannot expect to easily implement a reform agenda which undermines the very interests of electable on which their political survival and relevancy stands.

For instance, Khan has said a number of times that his entire focus is going to be uplifting Pakistan’s economy, investing more on human development, reversing the toll which climate change is causing, the curtailment of corruption in all forms and shapes. However, what is interesting and important to note is that Khan will have to do all of this on political shoulders which hardly have ideological commitments with the PTI or perhaps Khan’s broader reform agenda. One of the concerns in this regard stand with potentially declining political support for Khan’s reforms once the latter has settled in and started working on his agenda: with a weak government at the center, Khan who has worked hard to find his way to the prime minister’s office, may succumb to political opposition inside in his own party which is more interested in keeping their traditional patronage support bases intact. It doesn’t appear to be a case now, but one can argue that somewhere along the line Khan also risks a vote of no-confidence if he pushed ahead with his mission of radical reforms which are clearly going to undermine interests of bureaucracy and political elites of the country.

As of now, PTI remains a popular party which has come to power by cashing in on the idea of working on behalf of the country’s youth and growing middle class. There have been allegations of rigging but that doesn’t mean PTI can be robbed of its popularity and a substantial and growing voter base all across Pakistan. However, PTI’s popularity is likely to decrease in the coming months and years as the party is expected to face deep political, economic and bureaucratic challenges which remain the structure of Pakistan’s political system. On the broader scale, Khan’s idea of bringing change would only work if there are structural changes in Pakistan’s economic and political system which is currently rooted in patronage style politics rather than a modern state system.

Khan will have to work with all major state institutions and on certain occasions, he will have to accommodate certain demands which he may otherwise disapprove

As far as PTI’s record of governance in KP is concerned, the party was able to deliver on a number of human development indicators which perhaps appears to be a reason of its reelection in the province. It’s important to note that KP has never brought an incumbent government back to power. Among other things, it’s an important question to study that why KP brought back PTI with such a heavy mandate? Part of the reason has to be with PTI’s ability to reform some institutions in the province, improved health care system and growing focus on improving the quality of education in the province. Khan will definitely draw some lessons from his governance experience in KP and if he can succeed in KP with all political and economic constraints, there is a good probability that he can with all constraints, deliver at the national level. However, what Khan should make sure that he doesn’t push ahead with an agenda of all-out reforms which would certainly create hurdles for him not just inside his party but outside his party as well.

For instance, Khan will have to work with all major state institutions and on certain occasions, he will have to accommodate certain demands which he may otherwise disapprove. For instance, on the issue of foreign policy, the national security institutions in Pakistan have a major role and for PTI to deliver on the foreign policy front, it essential that Khan builds a good working relationship with the bureaucracy and the security establishment. One step in this regard can be taken in terms of effectively using the National Security Council, which by far is the only forum for the civilian and the national security institutes to come together and work on issues which challenge Pakistan on the external front.

While claims have been made that Khan is a populist leader, the latter is more of a popular leader than populist. His voter base may appear more charged but they are not in any way ideological or conservative; they all expect a good performance from Khan. Even if he is able to deliver on half of what he talked during his election campaign, it would be a success.

Umair Jamal

Umair Jamal is a graduate of the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University. He is a research fellow with the Centre for Governance and Policy. He regularly writes for various media outlets. He can be contacted on Twitter: @UJAmaLs.