National Sections of the L5I:

Stormy times ahead in Pakistan

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In the general election in Pakistan, held on July 25, the Pakistan Justice Movement, PTI, of Imran Khan, won 116 seats, with 16.8 million votes. However, this was well short of the 137 seats needed to win a majority in the 342 seat National Assembly so the party had to find partners for a coalition. This has now been resolved, principally by the support of Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, MQM-P, and Khan is likely to be sworn in as Prime Minister by August 14th.

Many parties across the country cried foul over attempts to rig the election and blame the Election Commission of Pakistan, ECP, for failing to ensure a free and fair election. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, PML-N, the former governing party and the main rival to the PTI, which won 64 seats with 12.9 million votes, rejected the election results entirely and said any mandate to Imran Khan’s party would not be acceptable to it. Nonetheless, the party agreed to take its seats in the National Assembly.

Much the same complaints were made by all the other major parties that contested the election, including the Pakistan People’s Party, PPP, of former prime ministers Zulfikar Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, now led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, which won 43 seats with 6.9 million votes. Currently, recounts have been ordered in a number of constituencies.

At the provincial level, the PML-N came out as the single biggest party in Punjab but the PTI will form a coalition with the PML-Q. The PTI will also form the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while the PPP held on to its traditional power base in Sindh. The ECP also allowed two banned Islamic parties to stand. Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, TLP, a clerical fascist party that grew after the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, won 2.2 million votes and two provincial assembly seats in Karachi. The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, MMA, a traditional alliance of religious parties, also gained 2.5 million votes.

Michael Gahler, head of the EU election observer mission, told a press conference in Islamabad that his 120 member team observed no rigging on election day itself but he raised serious criticisms about the pre-election period. He said there had been pressure on the media, “far stronger” efforts than usual to encourage voters, and even candidates, to switch parties and that “judicial conduct”, meaning the use of corruption charges to prevent candidates standing, had all negatively influenced the vote.“ We have concluded there was a lack of equality of opportunity” he said, adding that the overall process was “not as good” as in 2013, although the outcome remained, in his opinion, "credible".

The result is a major setback for the traditional parties that dominated politics for decades. The PTI is a relatively new party whose main slogans were against corruption and how the rich and powerful benefit from state patronage. In reality, it is a bourgeois right wing populist party and is full of billionaires, land grabbers and corrupt officials but it has attracted big support from the upper middle class and middle class.

Claiming victory after the election, Imran Khan said, "We were successful and we were given a mandate”. He said that, in government, his party would improve the lives of the poor, fight corruption, improve health care and education, focus on human development, build a vibrant economy, create ten million jobs in the next five years and build five million houses. He also promised an "Islamic Welfare State" and, while praising China’s economic policy and successes, referred to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, CPEC, as a “game changer”, the pet phrase of his predecessors.

While all such promises are naturally popular, they stand in flat contradiction to the economic situation in Pakistan. The country now has an $18 billion current account deficit. This is 45 percent higher than last year’s. Only two years ago it was $4.9 billion. The annual budgetary deficit is 2.2 trillion rupee and Pakistan's currency, the rupee, has declined by 20 percent. Inflation is on the rise and foreign reserves have dropped at an alarming rate so that they are now reckoned only to cover two months of imports. Exports such as textiles have taken a hit from cheaper products by regional competitors, including China.

Analysts say the new government will need to turn to the International Monetary Fund, IMF, almost immediately for a $12 billion bail out, the second since 2013. They also expect that tough decisions to curb spending will be easier in a government that Khan is able to dominate. Asad Umar, the PTI’s shadow finance minister, has not ruled out knocking on the doors of the IMF, but there are other options such as agreeing loans from China and Saudi Arabia, although they are likely to prove both limited and more expensive.

A bailout for Pakistan will be complicated by the struggle between the US and China on a global level. The United States has threatened to block any bail out unless it can be guaranteed that no money will be used to repay loans from China.

Political analysts are arguing for reforming the economy and implementing the IMF's agenda of spending cuts and privatisations and they are saying that Imran Khan must have the will to turn around the economy in a way that successive governments have been unable to do. What they mean is that the Nawaz government was unable to privatise the public sector after massive resistance by workers in the power industry, WAPDA, and the national airline, PIA. The PTI may argue for an Islamic welfare state and want to empower the masses and eradicate poverty, but in reality there will be further massive social attacks on the masses in the name of good government and the "national interest".

We can also envisage further moves towards a more authoritarian form of rule, meaning that democratic rights will also came under attack. A recent statement by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shows the lengths to which the ruling class is willing to go, he said that, if the constitution allowed it, he would ban the trade unions because they "were responsible for many problems".

Left groups and parties stood in 50 National and Provincial Assembly seats but their combined vote was no more than 50,000. This shows the real weakness of the labour movement in Pakistan. The only good news in the election was the victory of Ali Wazir, a leading figure in the Pashtun Defence Movement and a member of the Struggle group, who won his seat with more than 16,000 votes.

There can be no doubt that the new government will waste little time before launching its attacks on living standards and democratic and workers' rights. Although, as previous governments have found out, there will be resistance from the working class and the poor, success against a newly elected government will need more than determined resistance in individual companies or industries. What will be needed is a united front of working class organisations prepared to coordinate and unite the fight back.

At least equally important, the Pakistani left, the trade unions and social movements must address the need for a political alternative to all the bourgeois parties. In the past years, the left has failed to build a fighting alternative, a party of struggle against all imperialist domination, national and social oppression and in defence of democratic rights as well fighting to solve the economic problems of the workers and to strengthen trade unions.

The chronic weakness and fragmentation of the working class movement can only be overcome if there is a united resistance to the attacks from the government, the state, the imperialists and right wing Islamist forces. There is an urgent need for all activists and militants in the trade unions, the left wing organisations, the mass movements like the Pashtun Defence Movement, the students' and women’s organisations, who recognise this to enter into discussion for a new working class party which could give leadership to such a united fightback.

We in the Revolutionary Socialist Movement believe that party should be based on a programme that links these immediate issues to the struggle for a workers' and peasants' government and a socialist revolution in Pakistan.

The attacks from the next government and the continued deep crisis of Pakistani capitalism will certainly raise the need and the opportunity for a united resistance and fight back. But this will only be realised, will only succeed, if the crisis of working class leadership is addressed and resolved. The elections demonstrate that the left has lost a lot of time and ground. It needs to reverse this urgently.