Imran Khan pushes for early elections as Pakistan’s economy stumbles

Imran Khan has vowed to dissolve parliament in two of Pakistan’s four provinces in a move expected to fuel political tensions as the country grapples with a wage crisis.

The former cricketer-turned-politician said his Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) party will on Friday cancel rallies in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, where it controls the state. The two constituencies between them make up about 70 percent of Pakistan’s 220mn people and Khan believes his PTI party will increase in power if new elections are held.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is expected to face voters in a general election in October 2023 but Mr Khan has been pushing for an early poll.

“We are scared by that time [October]Pakistan could reach a point of no return,” Khan told foreign reporters this week at his home in Lahore, where he is recovering from last month’s assassination attempt. “In other words, it is facing betrayal and the government has no map to get out of this.”

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“The concern is that our economy is doing well, it’s doing well,” he said.

If parliaments are dissolved, new elections must be held within 90 days.

Khan, 70, was ousted in April in a parliamentary vote. But his popularity has grown since then in a year when Pakistan struggled with inflation and floods and sought IMF bailouts. He led thousands of his followers through Punjab last month, when he was shot in the leg.

“Imran Khan’s main goal is to return to the prime minister’s seat and that is what his entire strategy is looking to achieve,” said Azeema Cheema, director of Verso Consulting, an Islamabad-based research group. “They tried to disobey the government, to protest in public and to do secret negotiations with the soldiers; now he has only a few things left.”

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Experts have warned that long-term political instability and economic stagnation could draw attention to the powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan for nearly half of its 75 years since independence.

The IMF has not yet completed its review of the repayment of the ninth tranche of its $7bn loan program to Pakistan, raising concerns about the economy.

A chart of gross domestic product with SBP (month-end amounts, $bn) showing Pakistan's central bank's reserves have fallen.

On Tuesday, in the latest sign of the country’s economic woes, Indus Motors, a subsidiary of Japanese car maker Toyota, announced the closure of its plant for 10 days. The company cited “insufficient inventory” which had caused “negative effects on sales and production”.

The idea was followed by Pakistan’s central bank in introducing products in several industries, including automobiles and textiles.

“There has already been a selection because exporters cannot open letters of credit to send raw materials and other residuals and most of the countries that are working in Pakistan have been banned from sending their profits in foreign currency,” said Hammad Azhar. a former energy minister under the Khan government.

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Analysts said Khan’s gamble to dissolve parliament was a risky one, as there was no guarantee that his PTI party would win a new election. In Punjab, the PTI manages an alliance with another party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Q).

Sharif and members of his ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N) party have sought the help of legal experts to block Khan’s move.

“No political party has the tools to deal with the challenges the country is facing,” said Huma Baqai, a political commentator. “Everyone who comes [to power in future] they will have to rely on a technical government to fix the economy. Soon there is no answer. “

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