US press features Imran’s swearing-in with focus on signs of austerity & economic challenges


NEW YORK, Aug 19 (APP):American print and electronic media Sunday widely covered Prime Minister Imran Khan’s inauguration ceremony, highlighting first signs of the “austerity drive” he had promised while on the campaign trail.
“Mr Khan’s first decision was to scrub the nine-course meal traditionally served after the oath-taking ceremony, held at the president’s house,” The New York Times, a leading American newspaper, said in a report from Islamabad, while underscoring the “looming economic crisis” left behind by the previous government. “Instead, refreshments were served in the grand hall of the residence,” the report said.
“Since winning the July 25 election, the new Pakistan leader has stressed that he would lead a lean life, shunning the ostentatious displays of power and wealth of his predecessors,” the Times said, pointing out that that he had vowed to take a smaller house instead of the palatial Prime Minister’s House.
“Whether his campaign rhetoric will match the policies he pursues will be closely watched… ,” the Times said.
“On the campaign trail, he vowed to establish an Islamic welfare state and to build millions of housing units. Those promises will bump up against the reality that Pakistan’s government has little money to spare, is straddled with debt and must tighten its finances,” the report said.
“The main challenge is economic,” Ayaz Amir, a former lawmaker and noted Pakistani columnist, was quoted as saying by the Times. “There’s not much money in the kitty, and there are a lot of debts coming due both in the immediate and long term.”
Amir added: “He will be judged by what kind of people he appoints to key ministries — this will be crucial. And he has many other advantages: People look upon him as a clean leader with no legacy of corruption attached to his name, and he’s popular enough to withstand populist demands.”
The report also pointed to the new prime minister’s promise to break the dynastic nature of Pakistani politics and promised to bring young, dynamic leadership to his government.
Pakistan’s current account deficit stands at $18 billion, while its foreign-currency reserves are just $10.1 billion, enough to cover two months of imports, it was pointed out. Just days after the election, China gave Pakistan a $2 billion loan to help shore up its finances, following $1 billion given by Chinese banks in April. “And more money is needed, soon,” it added.
Saturday’s swearing-in ceremony was the second democratic transfer of power in Pakistan since it was founded in 1947, it was pointed out, while noting that the military had ruled for about half the country’s history through a series of coups.
Although Pakistan’s main political parties all agree that the economy is the top priority, whether Imran Khan can cobble together the needed support will be a challenge, the report said.
The Wall Street Journal, another major American newspaper, said, “The former cricket star, who spent two decades battling as a political outsider and never previously held a position in government, campaigned to overturn a history of poor governance in Pakistan, a nation of 200 million people that has vacillated between civilian and military rule throughout its history. But that won’t come easily, as he inherits a troubled economy and a tricky international environment,” referring to the economic crisis Pakistanis facing.