THE ruling PTI has averted one crisis for now. Facing the cameras in Lahore, members of the government and PML-Q teams said they had been successful in resolving their differences and all was well. This meant that the alliance would hold for the moment and the danger of the PTI losing crucial numbers in parliament had receded. If the ruling party members heave a sigh of relief — which they most probably will — they would be missing a crucial point: political agreements come at a price; renegotiated political agreements come at a renegotiated price. The PTI may be relieved it has saved the coalition, but within the coalition it has weakened its own position. This point will reveal itself once the details of the renegotiated settlement come to light. The PML-Q will most likely get most of its demands including greater political and administrative powers in districts where it wields influence, possibly in addition to some cabinet positions. While these concessions might have their own political repercussions, especially in PML-Q-dominated districts in Punjab, they have also exposed the PTI’s own political vulnerability and the party’s dependence on its coalition partners. As long as the fissures were obscured from public view, the PTI could flaunt its electoral mandate, but now its swagger shall surely be replaced with a certain level of nervousness which would hint at creeping weaknesses.

The tension with its coalition partners is indicative of the larger set of troubles that is plaguing the PTI government. Political firefighting may enable the government to paper over the cracks but each blow saps the political strength of the ruling party. The pressure of rising inflation coupled with the government’s inability to come up with any concrete solution to combat it is bleeding the party’s political capital faster than it would like to acknowledge. This is generating a perception that the government is on the ropes and unable to defend itself from these rapid-fire blows that are coming its way. The prime minister will need to provide firm and decisive leadership at this point to halt the slide. He would do well to be seen on top of things and in step with the sentiments of the electorate. He cannot afford to be seen as an aloof figure in these trying times. This means he will need to enhance his public engagement activities instead of being pictured sitting in his swivel chair in the plush prime ministerial office.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2020

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