Buyer’s remorse

Published May 17, 2022

THE process of consultation with allies is underway. Yesterday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif met the MQM-P convenor and the JUI-F and PPP leadership. It remains to be seen how quickly decisions are taken.

Since becoming the face of the unity government, the PML-N has rapidly lost the goodwill it spent years building up while in opposition.

After Finance Minister Miftah Ismail’s press conference on Sunday, it is clear that while the PM and his kitchen cabinet are aware of the economic crisis, they look to their party’s leadership in London for ‘guidance’ on policy matters. Nawaz Sharif et al, meanwhile, seem to be making decisions that are more in the interest of the PML-N than the people.

Read: Nawaz Sharif briefed on crises festering at home

Internal differences are causing serious delays in economic governance, as well as creating uncertainty in the capital markets. The reaction on Monday to Mr Ismail’s press conference came in the form of another sell-off in the stock market and the continued weakening of the rupee-dollar exchange rate.

It is difficult to sympathise with the PML-N, even though the party keeps reminding us that the economy is in the shape it is because of the decisions the PTI made in its last days in power. Yes, the unsustainable fuel and electricity subsidies draining Pakistan’s treasury were indeed introduced by the PTI, but what has this new government done about them?

It is strange to hear senior PML-N leaders lamenting the subsidies, yet not even coming up with a subsidy rationalisation plan though it is in their power to do so. The truth is that while they can blame Mr Khan all they want, each day of their own indecision is costing the treasury billions of rupees and wreaking further destruction on the capital markets.

Read: The Shehbaz govt must take bold decisions and shake up the economy before it's too late

The PML-N contends that any difficult decision it has to take must first be endorsed by the other parties in its government. This not only betrays the PML-N’s lack of trust in the parties it chose to ally itself with in order to remove the PTI from power, it also exposes its lack of foresight when forming the government.

If the PML-N so desperately wanted the other parties to share the burden of economic decision-making, why did it not demand that the finance ministry be headed by a coalition partner?

It is evident that the PML-N is only suffering from buyer’s remorse, and it is only the commitments it made to secure the vote of no-confidence that are holding it back from abdicating its responsibilities altogether. If there is no decision in the next few days, the PML-N should step down and let a caretaker set-up take over.

Even that decision will likely come with political costs — people will ask what the vote of no-confidence really achieved. However, the way the transition of power has been bungled, there is hardly any other option.

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2022

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