PM’s first speech

Published August 19, 2018

THE 22nd prime minister of Pakistan will have to contend with a set of circumstances that few leaders before him have had to face: familiar but significant governance and economic challenges; sky-high public expectations, especially among an ardent support base; and substantial scepticism and political opposition.

If Prime Minister Imran Khan succeeds in his economic and governance agendas, all of Pakistan will be stronger for it.

If Prime Minister Khan delivers credible civilian leadership, the constitutional order in the country will be strengthened.

Therefore, all Pakistanis and well-wishers of Pakistan ought to wish Mr Khan the very best in his first term as prime minister, which began yesterday.

Surely, however, Mr Khan has a special responsibility to his many supporters who have carried him from the margins of politics to its very epicentre.

In a fiercely divided polity and an era of hyper-partisan politics, the core PTI supporter has stood by Mr Khan because of his promise that he will be a different kind of leader — modern, efficient, results-oriented and clean — to what national politics has mostly offered so far.

But if Mr Khan is to deliver on even a modicum of what he has promised his many supporters, he will need to quickly pivot away from the angry, oppositional figure that he has cast himself as in politics for more than two decades.

The contrast between Mr Khan’s victory speech a day after the general election and Prime Minister Khan’s first speech from the floor of the National Assembly yesterday is an unfortunate one.

Confronted by a rowdy PML-N opposition that was quite obviously determined to mar Mr Khan’s election as prime minister, Mr Khan appeared to lose his cool.

So, instead of a speech focused on healing political wounds and setting a positive tone for the incoming PTI government, Mr Khan was backwards-looking and seemed more interested in settling political scores.

The speech itself ultimately may not matter, but in a polity where the opposition is mostly focused on tearing down a government, Mr Khan will need to rise above petty insults and provocations.

If he does not, he may quickly find his governance agenda overwhelmed by a familiar internecine politics.

The small margin by which Mr Khan was elected as prime minister can quickly become a big political problem if the PTI and Mr Khan succumb to emotion instead of governing steadily.

Amidst the rowdy scenes in parliament on Friday, there was a bright spot: a maiden parliamentary speech by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.

The PPP is clearly still firmly led by Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s father, former president Asif Zardari, and the party once again made a shabby contribution to parliamentary politics by abstaining from the prime ministerial vote. But Mr Bhutto-Zardari did at least remind everyone that parliament needs more substantive speeches.

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2018

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