Islamabad: Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan was sworn in at a ceremony on Saturday, officially taking over the reins of power in the nuclear-armed country after his party’s victory in a July 25 general election.
Khan, 65, was elected the day before in a confidence vote by the National Assembly and is expected to lead a coalition government.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party chairman took his oath of office on Saturday to become Pakistan’s 22nd prime minister. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the third largest party in the House that joined the PML-N and others in an opposition alliance, withdrew its support from Sharif’s candidacy for premier days before the election and abstained from voting.
One member of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), which contested elections under the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) banner, also abstained from voting for either candidate.
Khan, 65, was elected by 176 votes compared to the 96 of his opposition rival Shehbaz Sharif of the PML-N. The former cricket star’s ascent became certain after PPP, the third largest group, abstained from the vote and declined to back Sharif’s candidacy, despite both parties claiming rigging and military manipulation at the July 25 ballot. Khan pledged to investigate the charges and the army has consistently denied the allegations.
Khan will now have to focus on Pakistan’s rapidly deteriorating finances, as the US continues to pressure the nuclear-armed nation over its alleged support for insurgent groups. It is only the second successful, consecutive transfer of power between civilian governments in a country that has been ruled directly by the military for almost half its 71-year existence.
Promises to keep
After galvanising voters, particularly Pakistan’s large young electorate, Khan’s PTI has made promises to both expand social spending, while attempting to fix the economy and rebuild the nation’s depleted finances.
Despite forming a majority with the support of independents and several smaller parties, Khan’s ability to govern and push through reforms will continue to be tested.
“Even within the PTI-led government, extensive horse-trading is likely needed to get policies passed,” Fitch Solutions said in a report last week. “We are sceptical regarding the new government’s ability to fulfil its campaign promises given its weak margin of victory and resource constraints.”
Khan’s party has already flagged that urgency is needed to deal with Pakistan’s dwindling reserves, which have dropped at the fastest pace in Asia this year, to $10.4 billion. The nation’s current-account deficit has widened by 42 per cent to $18 billion in the year through June.
Asad Umar, a senior PTI lawmaker and the incoming finance minister, said in an interview this month that Pakistan may need more than $12 billion to plug the finance gap and a decision on where to source funds from needs to be made by September at the latest.
Many investors, analysts and politicians expect that most or part of that will come from an International Monetary Fund bailout. With Pakistan a key country along its Belt and Road trade route, China has also been providing the South Asian nation with billions of dollars in stopgap loans this year.
Those vast debts to Beijing have prompted worries from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said last month he would be watching to see if Khan’s new government uses IMF funds to pay off the opaque Chinese loans. Umar said he would bring more transparency to the more than $60 billion Belt and Road infrastructure projects in Pakistan.
During his victory speech on July 26, Khan called for closer ties with China and said he wanted a more “mutually beneficial” relationship with Washington. His comment comes after President Donald Trump cut Pakistan’s military aid and a US push saw the country added to a global anti-money laundering and terror financing agency in June.