The first speech Imran Khan gave a day after winning the general elections this year seemed to be the first shift he took after coming to power.
A mellowed down and courteous Khan was markedly less aggressive and more pleasant. He gave his vision about the out-of-school children, women dying during maternity, deaths caused by poor water quality, and those living below the poverty line. He further acknowledged Balochistan where a bomb attack had killed dozens of people, continued close ties with China, and peaceful relations with India. There was very little of his old, angry persona visible in that speech.
Imran Khan’s first speech as the Prime Minister of Pakistan in the parliament on Friday, the 17th of August was probably written four years ago and repeated every day after that.
He thanked God, then said the country had been waiting for this moment for 70 years, and followed it with the same old narrative – his drive against the corrupt politicians. He said, yet again, that no amnesty or agreement would happen for those who have escaped with the “nation’s money.”
Speaking From A Fortress
Imran Khan’s supporters had surrounded him and he stood in the middle of the same PTI politicians who seemed to lead his political campaign. The group excitedly banged the desk and cheered him but apparently also protected him from the other members. From the center of that cacoon, Imran Khan’s speech had the same old bravado that it did when he was in the opposition. Why does the new Prime Minister, elected by the people, need to speak from the middle of a fortress?
He re-emphasized that no dictator had ever nurtured him – a subtle comment on both his main rivals, Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, whose leaders began their journey during different martial laws. He continued his cricket analogies which seem to have gained popularity.
However, the tone of the new parliament could be heard already. This new equation between the government and opposition was coercive and not the least bit cooperative or respectful like the previous government and opposition shared.
Opposition members continued to yell and chant slogans to undermine Imran Khan’s authority. And he responded to them by restating his old political narrative against their corruption. This speech had very little to do with his governance plans – how he plans to run a country of over 200 million – or the two provinces of Khyber Pukhtunkhawa and Punjab. The combative opposition successfully steered him away from his own government to focus on them again.
No Plan, Only Rhetoric
There is a lot of resentment and ill-will. Both the main opposition parties are being hounded by this anti-corruption drive and PMLN has lost its top leadership to it. While in opposition, Imran Khan had come to the parliament in less than five percent of the sessions and led a belligerent campaign to get the government dismissed outside the parliament. This included protest sit-ins, a disdainful narrative against all politicians in the media, and, eventually, petitions against the then sitting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the Supreme Court.
On a lighter note during his speech, Imran Khan even added that he can give the container he used during his sit-in to the opposition parties if they want to launch protests.
This gesture and speech was not the need of the hour. If Imran Khan wants to successfully lead the whole Parliament, he will have to create some goodwill with the opposition. He has made a coalition government with ‘independents’ in the Centre and in Punjab, the largest province in Pakistan. He will need the opposition repeatedly for legislation. Their cooperation is necessary for ensuring that his government remains stable. Of course, no constitutional amendment can pass without a two-thirds majority.
Fumble Shouldn’t Become Symbolic
Today, during the oath-taking, Imran Khan did falter initially. He mispronounced words and had clearly not rehearsed his oath earlier. Hopefully, this lack of preparation and stumbling is not symbolic of the rest of his tenure. On Sunday, he will speak directly to the nation again. This time, he should emulate his first speech as the Prime Minister and not the one he gave in the parliament. If Imran Khan resonates with the general public, his government will be strengthened and more immune to opposition attacks.
He needs to let go of the attacks on his opponents and embrace the issues of the rest of the country. Now is the time to let go of the politics and evolve into the leader his voters believe him to be.
Now that he is Prime Minister, Imran Khan’s narrative must shift from the “other” or the “lesser politicians” to the people who believe in the “change” he promised. Recently, his party came under the ire for stating that it might seek an immediate IMF bailout of 28 billion dollars, a policy PTI intensely criticized the previous government for. The party’s future finance minister, Asad Omer, has already started dilly-dallying about the plan of bringing billions of dollars worth of investments from expatriate Pakistanis.
Obviously, fulfilling the promises Imran Khan made to millions of his voters isn’t easy. And it will continue getting more and more difficult if members of the Parliament are bent on not letting him speak or succeed. His government in Punjab is on even shakier grounds because Punjab has been a PMLN stronghold and it is deeply embittered on losing it. The members there had an equally aggressive non-cooperative attitude during the first session.
High time that this narrative was dampened and made way for policy changes and reforms instead.
(The writer is based in Lahore and tweets as @ammarawrites. Her work can be found on www.ammaraahmad.com. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quintneither endorses nor is responsible for them.)