The upcoming elections are shaping up to be contest between the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)—which was in power from 2018-2022—and the parties comprising the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), which held the government for 16 months. The latter’s support among the public has been severely dented by rampant inflation and massive hikes to gas and power tariffs, while the former’s position is complicated by its inability to chart a new relationship with the military after the violence witnessed during the May 9 riots. Additionally, PTI chief Imran Khan is facing several serious cases, including allegations of misusing a classified document for political gains, which could see him incarcerated for up to 14 years if convicted.
In the prevailing scenario, barring significant shifts in the coming months, the most credible forecast is that a Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)-led coalition will come to power after the general election—with support of the establishment. The runner-up party in terms of absolute numbers in the National Assembly would likely be the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), with PMLN leader Nawaz Sharif—if his lifetime disqualification is wrapped up—being elected prime minister and “power-sharing” with a president from the PPP. However, neither party is expected to secure a commanding majority, ensuring political instability even after the election. This would likely allow the military to maintain—and probably expand—its political role, “guiding” government policies on the economy and national security.
The next government—whosoever it might be—would also struggle with providing “relief” to the public, as the economy requires a sustained period of fiscal consolidation and focus on industry to move past its doldrums. Persistently low foreign exchange reserves would, thus, need to be bolstered with support of “friendly” nations such as China and Saudi Arabia, even as ties with India and Afghanistan are expected to stay strained. As the government seeks to implement long-delayed reforms, it would likely face intermittent bouts of political instability and domestic protests. Unfortunately, the blame for this crisis lies on our own leaders. Years of mismanagement in government; corruption; and a resistance to structural reforms mean the country faces a long and painful path to stabilizing the economy and attracting meaningful investment—with the hardest-hit the vulnerable populations who are already struggling to make ends meet.