Huzaima Bukhari, Dr. Ikramul Haq & Abdul Rauf Shakoori
Shahbaz Sharif, Opposition Leader in National Assembly and President of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)—PMLN—tabled the motion of no-confidence against the Prime Minister in the National Assembly on March 28, 2022 and after that the House was adjourned for March 31, 2022 for its ensuing debate. Proceedings started with 165 (48 percent) lawmakers and by the time of adjournment the number was 221 (65 percent). Voting on the resolution, in terms of Article 95(2) of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan [“the Constitution], shall take place “not before the expiration of three days, or later than seven days from the day on which it is moved”—it means latest by April 4, 2022.
Article 95 (1) of the Constitution requires that the no-confidence resolution can be moved by not less than 20 percent of the total membership of the National Assembly—the present one was supported by 161 members of the National Assembly—over 47 percent of the total strength of the existing House of 341 members. The resolution was approved for discussion on March 31, 2022 by the Deputy Speaker. According to various reports appearing in the media, voting on the resolution might take place between April 1 to 4, 2022. Historical record shows that in the recent past two such motions against Mohtarma Shaheed Benazir Bhutto and Shaukat Aziz, failed.
Based on the recent chain of events, it seems that the incumbent Prime Minister has lost the confidence of his own party members. Apparently, he is finding it difficult to maintain cordial relations with many allies. At the time of writing these lines, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) had yet not decided whom to support. In an important development, the other important ally of Pakistan Tehreek-i- Insaaf (PTI), Pakistan Muslim League (Q), stands divided and their Member National Assembly and Minister of Housing & works, Tariq Bashir Cheema, openly announced to vote against the Prime Minister resigning as minister. Though the fate of resolution is not clear, the Opposition seems confident to oust Premier Imran Khan.
In the wake of tabling the no-confidence resolution it is expected that the Opposition Leader, Shahbaz Sharif, would be the candidate for prime ministership on behalf of the joint opposition comprising Pakistan Democratic Alliance (PDM) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). If elected, the President PMLN will become the 23rd Prime Minister of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Being a candidate of parties having different ideologies, especially with its main ally and previously arch-rival, PPP, Shahbaz Sharif will face an uphill challenge in creating a conducive environment where all partners can work together and prepare themselves for the next elections.
People’s expectation of this alliance will be greater than Imran Khan, as his three years’ tenure made their economic life difficult. Though Imran Khan enjoyed full and uninterrupted support from all institutions including the military and judiciary, yet he miserably failed to bring any change in the overall governance and in the arena of accountability. Resultantly, Pakistan’s ranking declined to 140 on the Corruption perception Index. On the economic front, Pakistan experienced negative GDP growth, inflation remained in double-digits throughout his period in power. At one point of time, the policy rate crossed 13 percent and the development budget dropped significantly—negatively affecting employment ratio and the country’s growth rate.
Now if the no-confidence move succeeds, the new prime minister would have to address numerous challenges to provide relief to citizens, especially the poor and less-privileged. The new prime minister and his team would have to adopt a proactive approach with the aim to ensure sustainable growth and keep inflation under control. Pakistan is currently facing a series of challenges both on domestic and international fronts. Ever since the coalition government of PTI took charge, inflation has gained momentum, getting beyond control—continuously hovering in double-digit making common man’s life miserable. According to the recent report of Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has reached an alarming level of 13 percent that was around 5 percent in the entire tenure of PMLN. The Opposition needs to share its strategy to control inflation so that the poor should meet their necessities without facing any additional hardship.
The biggest concern is burgeoning debt burden, which is getting unbearable with every passing day—its size is now almost that of total GDP. Recent data issued by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) shows Government’s Debt and Liabilities between 1947 to 2018 were around Rs. 29.879 billion, but have reached an alarming level of Rs. 51.724 billion in less than four years of the present government. External debt increased to US$ 130.6 billion as on December 31, 2021 from about US$ 92 billion in 2018. Pakistan Democratic Movement and parties under its umbrella must possess a way forward to address these challenges otherwise the country will continue to rely on make-shift solutions like approaching the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other lenders.
The war between Russia and Ukraine is taking a toll on global energy prices, and countries like Pakistan relying heavily on imported oil are facing mounting balance of payment challenges although, feeling the political heat of the moment, the Prime Minister has fixed prices of petroleum products, our currency is undergoing immense pressure at the international level. The current interbank dollar rate has crossed Rs. 182, showing that Pak rupee has lost more than 55% of its worth since this government assumed power. Price fixation of POL products is not sustainable countries like Pakistan as it is eroding reserves largely created out of borrowed funds. Speaking of current account deficit, the recent official figures reveal that it has increased sharply this year due to rise in imports that rose to $52.50 billion during July-February FY22, compared to $33.85 billion during the same period last year. The balance of trade is hanging southwards with a heavy deficit of $31.95 billion. Pakistan needs high economic performance which can translate into sustainable economic growth of over 5 percent as it was during earlier years. In view of evolving geopolitical situation and intensity of internal and external risks, chances that domestic economic activities would be adversely affected, are great.
Notwithstanding whether the incumbent Prime Minister survives vote of no-confidence or PDM comes into power, challenges like inflation and the current account deficit would need to be addressed on emergent basis that will be a tough call. The government should chalk out measures designed to stimulate exports and discourage unnecessary imports. It is very important that the cost of doing business locally is reduced and ease of doing business is ensured so that our local industry can flourish as a substitute for imported inputs. The government must take steps to limit the pace of increase in the cost of living and should have a workable plan to handle these economic landmines in a timely manner otherwise there will be no change in the life of the common man.
Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq, lawyers and partners of Huzaima, Ikram & Ijaz, are Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), members Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellows of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE). Abdul Rauf Shakoori is a corporate lawyer based in the USA and an expert in ‘White Collar Crimes and Sanctions Compliance’. They have recently coauthored a book, Pakistan Tackling FATF: Challenges and Solutions