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On paper, the political frenzy, which has consumed the country this year unlike anything before in recenthistory, shouldstart dissipating now. After all, the change in military leadership, which was turned into an unnecessary bone of contention by political parties, has finally been obtained on time. The former PM Imran Khan has also swiftly called off his ‘long march’ to the capital in a rather peaceful way. As a result, the shaky, cautious Shehbaz government seems to have received a new lease of life.

Is there finally some stability in the offing? The PML-N-led government has been successful in getting the appointment business done, but can it complete the full parliamentary-term that expires mid-August 2023? Can the party recoup the lost political capital in the next 9-10 months to an extent that the Sharif leadership is confident to go the public in a general election? With rising cost of living, elevated cost of borrowing and dwindling purchasing power, can the economy turn around in such a short timeframe?

The whiff of nascent stability that is evident today may not last for more than a few months, as the sources of political unrest and economic turmoil remain active. Whether or not the ex-PM Khan actually carries out the threat to dissolve Punjab and KP’s assemblies (and regardless of whether such a move is effective in pushing for early elections), the political temperature is likely to remain high in the foreseeable future. Especially if the government’s economic difficulties are compounded by limited foreign debt inflows and inability to meet the IMF conditions under the EFF.

There is an argument that economic stability will not be achieved without a new political mandate – that is, until all assemblies are dissolved and fresh general elections are held across the country. The counter-argument is that early elections will subject the economy to even more uncertainty for at least 4 months (2-3 months to hold elections; another 1-2 months for new government to settle in). In other words, early elections may lead to a situation even worse than today. It’s hard to prove those hypotheticals either way.

If early elections were competitive for PML-N, they would have been held already. Besides, it appears that the system is not ready to give the PTI another chance just yet. A majority-win for the PTI would give Khan’s new/next government a strong political mandate, but it may not automatically wash away the distrust which his last months in government had accumulated with international financial institutions and major bilateral security and economic partners. In a way, Khan’s rising popularity has worked against him.

Mending the fences, having better Federal-Punjab relations and returning to the parliament may be a good strategy for the PTI to bide their time until August next year. That kind of pragmatism is likely to bring tangible political stability and help the economy (as well as the PML-N), but it will also significantly bolster the PTI’s image at home and abroad. Given the political enmities, it may be too much to ask. Still, let’s wait and see if the PML-N and the PTI are able to form a working relationship until next elections.

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