This ex-playboy is to lead Pakistan out of the crisis
Former sportsman Imran Khan can already be celebrated as head of government. The erstwhile womanizer must now stabilize Pakistan's economy.
The votes are still counted, but the party of Imran Khan is already celebrating. “I congratulate the nation,” said Asad Umar, an important Khan supporter. “Under the leadership of Imran Khan, Pakistan will become a nation that not only makes us proud but the whole world.”
According to several unofficial findings, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) (Pakistani Justice Movement) party is far ahead of the parliamentary elections in Pakistan. The former cricketer must be looking for a coalition partner, but he should be the next head of government of the country with 200 million inhabitants.
It would be the first-second change of power in the country’s 70-year history, brought about by-elections. How democratic that was, however, is doubtful: Several bomb attacks shook the election campaign. Critics also accuse Khan of having come to power only thanks to the support of the country’s influential army.
The well-defeated government party Muslim League (PML-N) of interim head of government Shahbaz Sharif has already announced that it will not accept the election. The other major party, the Pakistani People’s Party (PPP), complains of irregularities and intimidation by the army. However, observers do not expect Sharif to defend himself violently against a change of government.
This could be the first time since the 70s, an elected politician outside the powerful Pakistani clans Sharif or Bhutto come to power. And the victory would be surprising: Until recently, Khan’s party in polls was still behind the PML-N.
Once Playboy, now a politician
Imran Khan has the image of a newcomer who tidies up with the establishment – although he has been involved in politics since 1996. He comes from a wealthy family, studied at Oxford and has always been a member of the upper classes of the country.
But he became famous only as captain of the cricket team, which in 1992 won the world title. With the subsequent advertising revenue, he took off in the international jet set.
In his life, he has undergone a considerable transformation. He once moved as a playboy with “Rolling Stones” singer Mick Jagger through the nightlife of London. He had affairs with numerous women, sometimes one evening in a row.
Today he is more traditional – defending Pakistan’s strict and controversial blasphemy laws to gain extremely conservative voters.
His main political theme is rampant corruption in the country. The reigning governing party PML-N gave him a rough draft: Khan made sure that 2016 by the Panama Papers uncovered affair was cleared up ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Sharif was sentenced to ten years in prison this year.
And the new head of government is facing enormous political and economic challenges.
“The election campaign took place against the backdrop of a growing economic crisis,” warns Gareth Leather, Asia economist at advisory firm Capital Economics. Although the economy is currently growing at around six percent. But the country’s balance of payments has been out of balance in recent months.
The Pakistani rupee has lost around 15 percent of its value against the US dollar. At the same time, the currency reserves of the country have halved approximately.
The leather is responsible for the massive imports of steel and building materials from China. The deliveries are being built into China-funded gigantic infrastructure projects. In Pakistan, the People’s Republic is advancing what is arguably the most important Silk Road project: the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with the port of Gwadar as its center.
The projects have a total volume of more than 50 billion US dollars and are currently stimulating the economy. But it could be dramatic if the huge projects turn out to be oversized and not profitable. Economist Leather fears investment ruins – as happened to Sri Lanka with the Hambantota port. “Ensuring the success of the Sino-Pakistan economic corridor will be one of the new government’s most important tasks,” says Leather.
Khan had often criticized the CPEC in the election campaign as intransparent and susceptible to corruption. Stopping or braking, he should not the gigantic construction sites but not. Pakistan’s economy is already too dependent on the projects.