US, EU air reservations over ‘flaws’
ISLAMABAD, July 28, (Agencies): Imran Khan’s party said it has begun talks with independents and small parties to form a coalition government after a resounding triumph in Pakistan’s general election, as rival parties planned protests over alleged vote rigging. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) won 116 seats in Wednesday’s ballot, short of the 137 needed for a simple majority but a surprisingly strong showing that helped fuel suspicion of rigging.
The latest tally, which was updated Saturday afternoon following long delays, showed the outgoing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party in distant second place with 64 seats. Khan’s party has begun reaching out to potential coalition partners to form a government, according to spokesman Fawad Chaudhry, a task that analysts said should be straightforward. “We have contacted small parties and independent members, they will soon meet party leaders in Islamabad,” Chaudhry said late Friday, adding that the process was likely to take about 10 days. Chaudhry’s comments followed an announcement by rival parties vowing to launch a protest “movement”, after foreign observers voiced concerns about the contest.
More than a dozen parties calling themselves the All Parties Conference (APC) promised to protest over the results. However the group remained divided with some parties pledging to boycott joining the National Assembly and others calling for a new vote. The PML-N announced its support for the group but stopped short of saying it would boycott the new parliament. And the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which was notably absent from the APC, said in a separate announcement that it rejected the results, but vowed to try to convince the other parties to participate in the parliamentary process.
Retired general and analyst Talat Masood said the APC may succeed in sparking pockets of unrest but did not see the movement upsetting stability at the national level. “Opposition parties are divided and they are not genuinely in a mood to form any major opposition. I don’t think they have this stamina and the support of the people for going for a big movement,” said Masood.
The protests announcement late Friday came as the United States, the European Union and other observers aired reservations over widespread claims that the powerful military had tried to fix the playing field in Khan’s favour. Khan’s victory represents an end to decades of rotating leadership between the PML-N and the Bhutto dynasty’s PPP that was punctuated by periods of military rule.
The vote was meant to be a rare democratic transition in the Muslim country, which has been ruled by the powerful army for roughly half its history. But it was marred by violence and allegations of military interference in the months leading up to the vote, with Khan seen as the beneficiary. The former cricket star will face myriad challenges, including militant extremism, an economic crisis with speculation that Pakistan will have to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, water shortages and a booming population.
He will also have to contend with the same issue as many of his predecessors: how to maintain a balance of power in civilmilitary relations. Meanwhile, equity and bond markets have welcomed Imran Khan’s victory in Pakistan’s disputed election, but the former cricket hero faces a tough slog to avert a currency crisis and implement long-term reforms needed to end decades of boomand- bust cycles. Khan’s first major economic call will be to decide whether to ease pressure on the rupee by seeking Pakistan’s 12th bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) since the late 1980s.
Harder still will be to persuade more people to pay taxes in a nation famous for tax dodging, turn off subsidy taps draining government coffers, and reform loss-making state-run enterprises that past governments have struggled to sell off. “The country’s position is such that now you can no longer sustain the status quo,” said Suleman Maniya, head of research at local brokerage house Shajar Capital. “Speed is of the essence.” Pakistan’s central bank has devalued the currency four times since December, weakening the rupee by more than 20 percent, amid efforts to avert a balance of payments crisis in the $305 billion economy.
A similar scenario in 2013 led to Pakistan obtaining a $6.7 billion loan from the IMF. While the economy is growing at 5.8 percent, the fastest pace in 13 years, pressures on Pakistan’s current account show no signs abating. The country’s central bank is concerned by rising global oil prices – Pakistan imports about 80 percent of oil needs – and dwindling foreign reserves, which plunged to just over $9 billion last week from $16.4 billion in May 2017. Pakistan’s current account deficit widened 43 percent to $18 billion in the fiscal year that ended June 30, while the fiscal deficit has ballooned to 6.8 percent of the economy.