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Ninety days

Updated November 18, 2018

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The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

THE other number is also arbitrary, and borrowed anyway: 100 days. The 100-day mark makes more sense in a presidential system where the swearing-in activates most executive powers.

In a parliamentary system, it’s more staggered.

The five-year countdown begins the day parliament is sworn in. But the executive only takes form once the prime minister is elected and the executive only really gets going once the majority of the cabinet is in place.

So ‘100 days’ here is just a contrivance, imported from other jurisdictions and with little local relevance. In which case, may as well attempt a 90-day review. At least that number has a bit of local history attached to it.

What have we got at the end of 90 days?

The latest: the promise of a plan at the end of 100 days, a loopy reference to the ultimate fascist and doubling down on the sobriquet of Mr U-turn. And before that: really just the Saudi mini bailout. And between those things: the credibility-destroying surrender to the mob.

Having turned the volume knob of politics all the way up to 10 and maximum for several years, Imran and the PTI are struggling to turn it down to a reasonable level.

It’s not looking good.

But if it’s not looking good, how bad is it really? In these polarising, vanquish-your-enemy, with-us-or-against-us political times, not-good is both disaster and success — disaster for the bitterly partisan opponent and success for the bitterly partisan supporter.

That is partly — maybe mostly — the PTI’s fault. Having turned the volume knob of politics all the way up to 10 and maximum for several years, Imran and the PTI are struggling to turn it down to a reasonable level. The practitioners of guerrilla-style politics have ambushed themselves.

But if you can get away from that a moment and ask a slightly different question, the PTI is more or less performing as could have been reasonably expected of it 90 days ago. The slightly different question: what could the non-partisan have reasonably expected of this PTI government in its first 90 days?

It is now obvious that the PTI was thoroughly unprepared, maybe even clueless, when it took over 90 days ago. But that’s not really a surprise. And for the sceptically inclined, it had an air of inevitability.

Follow the arc of Imran’s political career. He has been strikingly consistent in how little interest he’s shown in details — any details. If Nawaz has his roads and motorways and Asif his sugar mills and endless land acquisition, Imran has what?

Good or bad, illegal or above board, pet projects or grand policy, there’s nothing you can really find in Imran’s interests that could bring with it an understanding of detail and the building blocks of policy and governance (misgovernance, even).

The closest thing is this business of tree planting, but there, too, where’s the eye for detail — any detail? He hasn’t really talked plant types or the science of forestation or anything approaching an understanding of trees, foliage, soil, and terrain.

The point isn’t really about trees — it’s that even in the thing that he is ostensibly passionate about, Imran hasn’t evinced an interest in the details.

The bigger giveaway is the PTI itself. It has become an electoral juggernaut and that’s an incredible achievement, but the party’s legitimate support is quite obviously built on the personal appeal of Imran, and not a grass-roots political machine.

Each time Imran has had the chance to build a party political machine, he’s shown an impatience and irritation with complex, durable structures and what it takes to assemble them.

So, completely unprepared.

The other part has been adjusting to power — the actual 90 days in office. Completely unprepared both limits what you can do in your first 90 days and reflects your ambition to actually achieve something in the first 90 days.

The gap between what is pledged and what is delivered is always large, that’s just the way of politics. But the gap between what is intended and what is delivered is often smaller. The first 90 days look shabby and poor, but only if true reforms are considered to be part of the agenda.

Take away meaningful reforms, look at the PTI as a status-quo enabler and perpetuator, and the PTI has delivered pretty much the uneven performance of a new government, further handicapped by its status as a first-time governing party at the centre.

Remember, what could the non-partisan have reasonably expected of this PTI government in its first 90 days?

The economic crisis was baked in, the PTI having a choice between looking competent while partially steering us out of the crisis or bumbling its way towards a ratcheting down of the crisis. It’s only a difference of form and perception, really.

And the bludgeoning it took in the streets — terrible, yes, but made to look worse because of Imran’s show of bravado. Others wouldn’t have bothered with the bravado and probably ended up with the same result.

The bludgeoning in the streets was events imposing themselves and fire-fighting mode kicking in early — but not so early as to shock.

So, yes, it’s not looking good for Imran and the PTI. But if it’s not looking good, how bad is it really? To the non-hyper partisan, the PTI is more or less performing as could have been reasonably expected of it 90 days ago.

And now that the silly, arbitrary 90-day mark is out of the way, the PTI can get serious about delivery in a longer stretch up to the two-year mark, which is what matters for re-election — the only real political incentive.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2018

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