The PTI is falling into the pattern of previous rulers of Pakistan who have come to power with a reform agenda. Even before the hoopla of the ‘First 100 days’ were over, there were voices asking that a longer time be given for the PTI to show the change it had made. Now the limit, if mentioned at all, is no longer just 100 days, or a year. Now it is pointedly said that the tenure to which the Assemblies, both national and provincial, have been elected, has been for five years.

It is also argued that the system which Imran has to fix has been spoiled over the last 70 years, so it will take some time to fix it. At this juncture, with the New Year behind us, the PTI government has just been in office 139 days, so for many it might seem that more time is needed. However, during last year’s election campaign, and almost relentlessly from the time of the 2014 sit-in, he and his party had promised tabdeeli. There was no time frame given, but the impression was given that people’s lives would change rapidly for the better if and when the PTI took office. One important symbol of this was that the PTI issued a 100-Day manifesto, rather than the more traditional five-year one. The 100-day manifesto did not contain a promise to hold fresh elections at the end of the period, something which is implicit in a five-year manifesto.

Perhaps one of the biggest flaws in that manifesto was that it contained no built-in accountability mechanism. A five-year manifesto does, because the National Assembly elected on its basis, will last five years. If the manifesto has been left unfulfilled at the time of a new general election, a new manifesto will be issued. If something has been left unachieved because it was taking too long, it will be put into the new manifesto.

There may be other reasons for non-performance, such as the party issuing it ending up in the opposition, failing to persuade coalition partners, or a premature dissolution. There is a fresh general election, and the electorate decides the fate of the party based on a clutch of factors, implementation of the manifesto being only one of them. Without looking at individual constituency dynamics, which centre round candidates, it is quite possible that the voter may forgive a party for failing to implement its manifesto in a full term in office, or may decide against a party which had fulfilled its manifesto ahead of time.

The PTI has managed to create a new situation: a government which has come up against a major time limit, which itself set, but will not go before the electorate to have itself tested for success of failure. It should also keep in mind that all electorates are basically unfair, and judge governments on issues that may not have been the subject of promises, of governance. Manifestoes do not provide for something that is manifest among the PTI’s ministers, MNAs and MPAs: they are learning on the job. The assumption behind manifestoes is that they are fronts for a team which, if elected to office, could do what they say. Therefore the criticism of Imran, that he has not selected the right people, does not really wash. He can only select from those elected. If he did not select enough ‘men of business’ and allocate them to safe seats, he should not have made the promises he did.

In one respect, Imran has not been given enough time, but that may well be because he did not say how long it would take. True, the fight against corruption is permanent and ongoing, but some targets, as well as a timeframe, would have been helpful. True, a timeframe involving courts cannot be anything more than indicative, but it still would have allowed an indication of what could be expected.

It is almost as if the PTI was not prepared to take office. It should be noted that the PTI does not have a legislative programme. If it had, the lack of a majority in the Senate would not have prevented it from either passing that programme through the National Assembly and then leaving the public to see how it was being stymied, or it could have made a fuss before the public that the Senate was being an obstacle. Indeed, that was how, in 1911, the Liberal government removed the Lords’ right to consider the Budget, by just such a fuss. The PTI has so far presented one piece of legislation to the public, a law reform bill, meant to speed up trials. There is no indication of any anti-corruption legislation, which is counter-intuitive when considering the case of a party operating within the parliamentary system, and which upholds the Constitution.

One possibility is that the PTI leadership has already given up, and is just hanging around because its leaders enjoy the perks of office too much to give up. In that case, there is the problem of how to fill in the time until the next election. If the PTI is not a mere vehicle for Imran Khan, the failure to bring reform will place it within the ranks of traditional parties.

The Faustian bargain with the PPP and the PML(N) was that they would leave foreign and defence policy to the establishment, while being allowed perks like free accommodation, flag cars, free foreign trips, among others. The PTI, while claiming to be against these perks, now enjoys them. The PTI is in danger of the establishment realising that the PTI has got the popular support because it made promises. What will happen if the promises are not kept?

In a way, it does not matter if the promises are kept or not. What matters is whether people feel better about themselves and their lives. People do not like economic problems, like inflation or a huge balance of payments deficit. They will not wait for the control of corruption to translate into good government decision-making, which will mean a better economic situation. They want a lower cost of living, better pays, better health and educational services from the state, less crime, better job prospects for their children. In short, they want it all, and they want it now. And that is what Imran promised them. His voters also believed it.

To be fair, that is also what other parties promised. However, not even their voters really believed them. The PML(N) and the PPP were mainly vehicles for Mian Nawaz and the heirs of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, but also mechanisms to ensure that the other side did not win. Both were expected to promise the moon, but once in office, neither was supposed to do more than provide day-to-day management. Corruption was expected, but both were also expected to ensure that there was a sort of rough justice in the distribution of the spoils.

The PTI was supposed to end this. It will itself admit it has not. Instead, it demands to be allowed the time to do so. How much time? That can be argued over, but what cannot is that the honeymoon period now seems to be over. It will still be possible for the PTI to claim that a particular problem is the fault of its predecessors, but the time of being free from criticism is not. People are now going to ask questions about how the PTI has impacted their lives.

 

The writer is a veteran journalist and

founding member as well as executive

editor of The Nation.