Imran Khan’s crumbling popularity pushes him to gamble

The former cricket star, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, witnessed his popularity collapse in a few years. It has now been weakened by poor economic management and brought down by the military. His resort to early legislation is a desperate political maneuver to stay in power.

Imran Khan is trying everything for everything, even if it means looking like a bad player. The former cricket star, who became Pakistan’s prime minister in 2018, carried out a clever stunt that enabled him to avoid extremism, Sunday 3 April, voting on a motion to assign blame to opponents against him.

Sensing the cycle of wind, the Pakistani leader obtained from his ally, President Arif Alvi, announcing the dissolution of the National Assembly, which led to the holding of early legislative elections within 90 days.

As the deputies were preparing to take their places in the bloody ark to begin the impeachment proceedings, the prime minister surprised the deputies, appearing on television to announce the dissolution of their body. At about the same time, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Qasim Suri, who is loyal to Imran Khan, refused to put the motion of no-confidence to a vote, claiming that it was the product of alleged “foreign interference” by the United States.

The Supreme Court, which has been seized by the opposition, must rule on Tuesday on the legality of that refusal to bring the censure motion to a vote on Sunday.

Imran Khan knows he is playing his ultimate trump card there in what could be his last political match. Also, this former extraordinary athlete is trying to save time and hopes to regain his legitimacy through the ballot box. However, the process is fraught with peril, as the national cricket champion has eroded all of his popularity.

unfulfilled economic promises

His party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which he helped found in 1996, remains loyal to him. Just like his allies who were placed in key positions of power, such as the honorary president of the republic, Aref Alawi, who announced the dissolution of the assembly, or the vice president of the chamber, Qasim Suri. However, the prime minister has more and more opponents, including some of the Pakistani military who supported his rise to power.

The former cricketer has enjoyed real popularity for a long time but has faded due to the very bad economic situation, with accelerated inflation, weak rupee and collapsing debt.

Imran Khan came to power in 2018, after winning the legislative elections for the PTI party, with populist promises that combined social reforms, religious conservatism and the fight against corruption. As head of government, he first benefited from his incorruptible image and the weariness of society from the traditional parties, which for decades monopolized power with the military.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, his choice not to impose a nationwide lockdown, which would have “starved” people to death, has proven common and successful. The 220 million Pakistanis, mostly young, were largely spared (30,000 dead).

But, even if he inherited the damaged finances, the economic situation and his poor choices ended up catching up with him, as his declining popularity in recent months encouraged his allies in the ruling coalition to move closer to the government. Opposition to trying to push him out.

In question, in particular, a series of measures ending tax exemptions on everyday products, adopted by his government, in order to obtain a loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Discontent is also heard on the street. “When the PTI government came to power, they made a lot of promises, but they could not keep any of them. They could not control inflation. They had no strategy. Now the situation is so bad that I don’t think the next will be able to do anything to improve it,” A frustrated young Pakistani protested, in front of a France 24 reporter’s microphone in Islamabad.

The former playboy who became a supporter of the radicals

Often accused of restricting the space for press expression, Imran Khan has also angered feminist organizations by creating a link several times between rape and the way women dress, in a country where sexual violence is rampant.

The son of a wealthy family in Lahore, Oxford graduate, has been married three times after maintaining his reputation as a playboy accustomed to London’s most-chosen nightclubs, and has also been criticized for being complacent about the extremist clergy.

The man has changed a lot. In 1995, he married Jemima Goldsmith, a wealthy English heiress, girlfriend of Lady Diana. Her marriage was covered by tabloids all over the world. Twenty years later, in 2018, he married for the third time, standing with his new wife, Bushra Bibi, from a religious family. A sign of conservatism in Pakistan is a red veil that hides a woman’s face. An evolution that reveals her growing conservatism.

The 69-year-old former aircraft maker is now appearing more and more often carrying the rosary and fiercely defending the controversial blasphemy law.

In November, his government also lifted the ban on Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which was issued in April after violent anti-French demonstrations organized by this Islamist party, which denounced France’s support for the right to caricature, especially the Prophet Muhammad.

“Taliban Khan”

His critics have even gone so far as to call him the “Taliban Khan”, attacking him for never stopping calling for dialogue with the violent insurgent groups linked to the Taliban.

Especially since the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan in mid-August has contributed to the deterioration of the security situation in Pakistan. After several years of relative calm, attacks have resumed with renewed vigor since August, carried out by the Pakistani Taliban affiliate of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), the regional branch of the Islamic State (EI-K), or Baloch separatist groups, despite Kabul’s assurances that the territory Afghani will not be used for such purposes.

Dozens were killed in a suicide bombing on March 4 while performing prayers at a Shiite mosque in Peshawar, making it the deadliest attack in the country since 2018.

The military is at odds with foreign policy

Imran Khan’s efforts to position Pakistan as a major regional player have also had little effect. Relations with Washington and European countries declined, especially under the influence of his anti-American positions and his vitriolic rhetoric against Islamophobia, disguised in his eyes, in the West, under the guise of freedom of expression.

Islamabad has approached China. Also, Imran Khan’s official visit to Moscow on the same day the outbreak of the war in Ukraine earned him a lot of ridicule.

A foreign policy that the sheer military power of this country does not like. The statements of the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, came on several occasions to calm the enthusiasm of the Prime Minister’s statements.

And it wasn’t long after the last call reached the regime on Saturday, just hours after the prime minister accused the United States of having filed a motion of no confidence in it. “We have a long history of excellent strategic relations with the United States, which remains our number one export market,” General Qamar Javed Bajwa immediately reported, evidence that a cold had settled between the two men. One thing is for sure: the Pakistan Army will not come to the rescue of the former national champion if he loses his last match.

Imran Khan is currently holding his position as Prime Minister for about two weeks, while an interim government is being formed.

with AFP

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