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Imran Khan’s frayed popularity pushes him to gamble

Former cricket star, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan saw his popularity crumble in a few years. It is now weakened by poor economic management and dropped by the army. His recourse to early legislation is a desperate political maneuver to stay in power.

Imran Khan tries everything for everything, even if it means looking like a bad player. The former cricket star, who became Prime Minister of Pakistan in 2018, implemented a clever ploy which enabled him to avoid in extremis, Sunday April 3, the vote of a motion of censure of the opposition to his against.

Sensing the wind turning, the Pakistani leader obtained from his ally, President Arif Alvi, that he pronounce the dissolution of the National Assembly, which led to the convening of early legislative elections within 90 days.

While the parliamentarians were preparing to take their places in the hemicycle to begin the dismissal procedure, the Prime Minister took the deputies by surprise, appearing on television to announce the dissolution of their body. Almost simultaneously, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Qasim Suri, an Imran Khan loyalist, refused to put the no-confidence motion to a vote, on the pretext that it was the product of alleged “foreign interference” by the United States. United.

Seized by the opposition, the Supreme Court must rule on Tuesday on the legality of this refusal to submit the motion of censure to the vote on Sunday.

Imran Khan knows that he is playing his ultimate trumps there in what could be his last political match. Also, this former exceptional sportsman is trying to save time and hopes to regain his legitimacy through the ballot box. However, the operation is perilous, because the national cricket hero has eroded all his popularity rating.

Unkept economic promises

His party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which he helped found in 1996, remains loyal to him. Just like his allies placed in key positions of power, such as the very honorary President of the Republic, Arif Alvi, who pronounced the dissolution of the Assembly, or the vice-president of the chamber, Qasim Suri. However, the Prime Minister has more and more adversaries, including some of the Pakistani military who had supported his accession to power.

The former cricketer enjoyed real popularity for a long time but it has frayed due to a very poor economic situation, with galloping inflation, a weak rupee and crushing debt.

Imran Khan came to power in 2018, after the victory in the legislative elections of the PTI, on populist promises combining social reforms, religious conservatism and the fight against corruption. As head of government, he first capitalized on his incorruptible image and society’s weariness of traditional parties, which monopolized power for decades with the army.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, his choice not to impose a nationwide lockdown, which would have “starved” people to death, proved popular and successful. The 220 million Pakistanis, mostly very young, were largely spared (30,000 dead).

But, even if he had inherited damaged finances, the economic situation and his bad choices ended up catching up with him, the decline in his popularity ratings in recent months encouraging his allies in the ruling coalition to approach the government. opposition to try to push him out.

In question, in particular, a series of measures ending exemptions from taxes on everyday products, adopted by his government, in order to obtain an IMF loan.

In the street, discontent is also heard. “When the PTI government came to power, they made a lot of promises, but they couldn’t keep any of them. They couldn’t control the inflation. They have no strategy. Now the situation is so bad that I don’t think the next ones will be able to do something to improve it”, protests a disappointed young Pakistani, at the microphone of the France 24 correspondent in Islamabad.

The former playboy who became a supporter of the radicals

Often accused of having restricted the space for expression of the press, Imran Khan has also aroused the indignation of feminist organizations by establishing several times a link between rape and the way women dress, in a country where sexual violence is common.

This son of a wealthy family in Lahore, a graduate of Oxford, married three times after having maintained during his sports career a reputation as a playboy accustomed to the most select nightclubs in London, has also been criticized for his complacency. towards radical clerics.

The man has changed a lot. In 1995, he married Jemima Goldsmith, a wealthy English heiress, friend of Lady Diana. Her marriage was covered by tabloids around the world. Twenty years later, in 2018, married for the third time, he poses with his new wife Bushra Bibi, from a religious family. A sign of conservatism in Pakistan, a red veil hides the woman’s face. An evolution that reveals its growing conservatism.

The 69-year-old former jet-setter now appears more and more often with the rosary in hand and vehemently defends the controversial blasphemy law.

In November, his government also lifted the ban on Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), decreed in April after violent anti-French demonstrations organized by this Islamist party, which denounced France’s support for the right to caricature, especially the Prophet Muhammad.

“Taliban Khan”

His detractors even go so far as to nickname him “Taliban Khan”, attacking him for having never ceased to advocate dialogue with violent insurgent groups linked to the Taliban.

Especially since the seizure of power by the Taliban in Afghanistan in mid-August has contributed to the deterioration of security in Pakistan. After several years of relative calm, the attacks have resumed with renewed vigor since August, carried out by the Pakistani Taliban of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the regional branch of the Islamic State group (EI-K), or Baloch separatist groups, despite assurances from Kabul that Afghan soil would not be used for such purposes.

Dozens of people were killed in a suicide bombing on March 4 while praying at a Shiite mosque in Peshawar, making it the deadliest attack the country has seen since 2018.

Army at odds with foreign policy

Imran Khan’s efforts to position Pakistan as a key regional player have had little effect either. Ties with Washington and European countries have been stretched, notably under the effect of his anti-American positions and his diatribes against Islamophobia, disguised in his eyes, in the West, under the guise of freedom of expression.

Islamabad has moved even closer to China. And Imran Khan’s official visit to Moscow on the very day of the outbreak of war in Ukraine earned him much ridicule.

A foreign policy that is not to the liking of the all-powerful military in this country. The declarations of the head of the army, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, came on several occasions to calm the ardor of the Prime Minister’s remarks.

The last call to order was not long in coming on Saturday, just hours after the Prime Minister accused the United States of having fomented the motion of no confidence in him. “We share a long history of excellent strategic relations with the United States, which remains our first export market”, immediately informed General Qamar Javed Bajwa, proof that a cold has settled between the two men. One thing is certain: the Pakistani military will not come to save the former national hero if he were to lose his last match.

Imran Khan is currently retaining his post as Prime Minister for a period of around two weeks, while an interim government is put in place.

With AFP

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