Report predicts bigger majority for PML-N in 2018 polls

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ISLAMABAD, Jan 13 (APP): Analysts foresee a bigger majority
for the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in 2018 election
keeping in view the efforts of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif led
government to deliver on governance, economic reforms and particularly security.
According to a report published in Nikkei Asian Review,
an English-language business journal, in June 2013, Pakistan
underwent its first-ever peaceful regime change from one elected
civilian party to another.
In the National Assembly, the ruling PML-N holds 189
seats, 55% of the total 342, while the opposition Pakistan
Peoples Party (PPP), co-led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of
former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, holds 47 seats. The
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by Imran Khan, a
former cricketer, holds 33.
The PPP won the 2008 general elections after leader
Benazir Bhutto was gunned down during the campaign, but lost
steam due to political failures. The party was working to
regain power under the leadership of Bilawal and Bhutto’s
husband Asif Ali Zardari, but that would require increased
support in its own stronghold in Sindh, as well as making
inroads in Punjab, the PML-N heartland that was home to more
than half the country’s population.
The PTI made major strides in the last general election,
but public opinion was turning. As one Pakistani businessman
put it, “They lost people’s support due to agitation
politics, including months long sit-in at the parliament.”
Recently, the Panama scandal involving Prime Minister
Nawaz Sharif’s son and daughter was widely talked about, but
had not developed to the point of threatening the
administration.
The Jang Group’s Hasan was already predicting a ruling
party’s victory in 2018. “Unless something major happens,
(Nawaz) Sharif will get a bigger majority in next election.”
Highlighting the government’s strong performance in economy,
the Journal said Pakistan had recently witnessed significant
improvements in its infrastructure and energy sectors, helped in
part by the downward trend in oil prices.
In August, the country completed the International
Monetary Fund’s Extended Fund Facility programme, which provided
$6.4 billion in financial aid over three years on condition
the country undertakes certain reforms, including fiscal
austerity and privatization measures. Macroeconomic indexes
were up across the board, and relations with the U.S. and the
wider international community had improved.
It said the public order, which had long plagued the
entire country, was normalizing thanks to the military’s anti-
terrorism campaign.
Although it could only be described as reaching the
halfway point in its efforts to promote exports and
manufacturing, reform the tax code and privatize state-run
companies, Pakistan’s recovery was undoubtedly gathering pace.
For fiscal year 2017, the country was confidently projecting
growth above 5%. The consumer price index, which for a time
saw double-digit annual growth, fell to 2.9% on average in
fiscal 2016. The government’s annual deficit had fallen from
8.2% in fiscal 2013 to 4.6% of GDP.
Under Nawaz Sharif, the Asian Review said the ruling PML-N had
focused on building infrastructure and public transportation
systems. It had also made certain progress, mainly in its
stronghold of Punjab, developing agricultural areas and
addressing unemployment.
The centerpiece of its political campaign was the China
Pakistan Economic Corridor project, a comprehensive
infrastructure programme relying on financial help from China.
Investment in CPEC projects totals $51 billion, mainly for
the building of power plants, but also encompassing roads, ports,
railroads and airports, and offers hope of spurring industry
nationwide.
“There’s a significant improvement both on the economic
and security sides. Democracy is also taking roots,” said Arif
Habib, CEO of leading conglomerate Arif Habib group, when
asked about the performance of the Sharif administration. “The
media is free, and the judiciary system is also improving,” he
added.
Abdul Aleem, secretary-general of the Overseas Investors
Chamber of Commerce and Industry, comprising 195 foreign
companies and other organizations, said, “The government is
very strong,” although “commodity prices, especially oil, are
the biggest risk.”
“The current government is spending a lot of money on
infrastructure and energy, which is deeply requisite for
business growth and development,” commented Shahrukh Hasan,
group managing director of Jang Group.
There are challenges, of course, the journal said adding
that economic interests have been demanding reform of the rigid and
burdensome tax system, particularly for manufacturers and large
corporations, the export-promotion policy and communication
between federal and state governments. Efforts to privatize
Pakistan International Airlines and the essentially bankrupt
Pakistan Steel Mills are also deadlocked.
In the second half of 2017, as Pakistan moves into the
election campaign season, it will be difficult to cut
spending, not only on infrastructure but on development in
rural areas, health care and education. One senior foreign
diplomat in Pakistan said, “It can only keep on running on
this force until the 2018 general election.”
For Nawaz Sharif and the ruling PML-N, 2017 will be a
crucial year. Following through on economic reform and
delivering tangible results for business and people in general
will be essential.