Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan is brimming with confidence after holding a mammoth public rally in Lahore on April 30. His chances of winning the next election are the highest of his lifetime and there is also a possibility that he will get a walkover in the Punjab after the conviction of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in corruption cases and possible arrest of new Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shahbaz Sharif on corruption and murder charges.
In fact, Imran Khan is already preparing himself for leading Pakistan after the next election. According to a recent report by the British-based Exotix Capital, which provides market research insights and corporate access, chances for Imran Khan winning the election have increased to 50 per cent and it reduced the PML-N probabilities to 40 per cent. The report, which was released to investors on April 24, 2018, said, “Election probability scenarios have shifted in PTI’s favour after key political events. The judicial confirmation of former Prime Minister and ruling party leader Nawaz Sharif’s lifetime ban from public political office has not only stripped the party of its leader of the past three decades, but also made it difficult for his brother Shahbaz Sharif, who succeeded Nawaz as party leader, to distance himself from Nawaz’s tirades against the judiciary and, in our view, by implication, the army. The arrest of officers in the Punjab government on suspicion of corrupt business practices in the alleged Ashiana housing scam and the start of breakaway groups from the PML-N, for example, the Janoobi Punjab Sooba Mahaz, are also not a good sign for the ruling party and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.”
“This persuades us that the probability of a PTI-led coalition government emerging from the election has increased. We change our probabilities to 40% PML-N, 50% PTI, 10% extended interim and 0% martial law from 50% PML-N, 35% PTI, 15% extended interim government, 0% martial law from our January report. A PTI-led coalition will likely drive three concerns that may significantly negatively impact the pricing of Pakistan (local currency) equities and (US$-denominated) sovereign debt in the short term: the flight of capital of vested interests in the undocumented economy, which enjoy tacit protection under the current government; the coherence of coalition civilian politics after five years of an absolute majority under the PML-N; and untested (or unknown) macroeconomic policies of the PTI compared with the known (however, imperfect) ones of the PML-N,” it noted. The report said Imran Khan also hinted at approaching the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after coming to power, besides establishing constructive ties with the US.
In his 11-point manifesto, Imran Khan has already spelled out his priorities after coming to power, which include the elimination of corruption, self-reliance, health and education. “We will collect Rs8,000 billion from the people of Pakistan through strong institutional reforms every year and make Pakistan self-reliable,” he announced and promised to massively cut taxes on electricity, gas and petrol. He also announced declaring “agriculture emergency” in the country, action against the sugar mills mafia and the provision of best seeds and subsidies on electricity to farmers. He said his government would build five million low-cost houses for poor people, strengthen the federation so that smaller provinces did not feel deprived; declare South Punjab as a province, mainstream Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) by giving them substantial development funds, set up women police stations and primary schools to provide quality education to girls.
After the disqualification of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan is in a one-on-one contest with Punjab Chief Minister and new PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif. But Shahbaz also faces many challenges. His biggest problem is his elder brother Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz, who have savaging the establishment and the judiciary since the court took up the Panama case. They believe their narrative is gaining popularity, but they have put the future of the ruling party at stake. Their criticism will put pressure on legislators and electables of their own party and they would leave it. Defections in the party will start after Nawaz Sharif and his family are convicted in corruption, forgery and money laundering cases, which is expected in weeks now. The interim period of three months before the election will also be hard on the party. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and almost all cabinet ministers face cases. Few will survive till the election.
Shahbaz Sharif has already appeared before the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for alleged misuse of authority in the construction of a low-cost housing scheme. He faces a number of serious inquiries in the coming days, which will decide the future of the PML-N. NAB has also sent notices to him, seeking details of his assets and asked him to submit details of the funds spent in the construction of Raiwind Road, leading to the Sharifs’ Jati Umra residence. An audit report has detected over Rs6b corruption in the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro Bus project. NAB is also investigating owners of the Chaudhry Sugar Mills, including Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, Hamza Shahbaz, Kulsoom Nawaz and Maryam Nawaz, for assets beyond known sources of income following a complaint of their involvement in suspicious transactions, involving billions of rupees, to the UK. The issue is similar to the Hudaibiya case. Shahbaz Sharif also faces the Minhajul Quran case, in which 14 people were killed and over 100 injured by the police. He can be arrested and included in the investigation in the interim setup. The Supreme Court has already ordered making the Justice Baqar Najafi report part of the case. The report holds Shahbaz Sharif responsible for the killings. His 56 public sector companies are also being investigated for their legal position and corruption by NAB and courts. Sources say NAB has completed its investigations into the companies and he could be summoned anytime, most probably during the interim setup.
Even if Shahbaz Sharif remains unhurt before the election, he will find it hard to keep the party intact after certain jail for Nawaz Sharif. Many legislators will also leave the PML-N after the announcement of the election. The rest will decide about their future during the interim period. Many political families are waiting for signs of changing winds. The wind of the PTI has started blowing in the country. In the case of any adverse action against Shahbaz Sharif, the ruling party will collapse and the PTI could get a walkover in the Punjab and at the Centre.