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Pakistan government coalition instability

25 June 2020 Asad Ali

Pakistan's State Minister of Health Zafar Mirza told reporters at a briefing on 22 June that the federal government had identified 500 coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) hotspots across the country, and that localised lockdowns would be employed to stem outbreaks in these areas.

This strategy - designated "smart lockdowns" - will replace the broad, wholesale restrictions that Prime Minister Imran Khan has deemed unviable in Pakistan due to their impact on the country's economy and working class. Nevertheless, despite the easing of nationwide and provincial lockdowns since May, COVID-19 infections and deaths have continued to increase and had reached more than 185,000 and nearly 4,000 respectively as of 22 June, straining the country's underdeveloped health systems.

Significance

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government's handling of the pandemic has been criticised by opposition parties, and public support for Khan's government has likely fallen. This raises the probability of growing disunity within the PTI because of the party's faltering public support or that the military, which has so far been a key political ally of the prime minister, increasingly perceives that government has mishandled the health crisis.

Although the military likely continues to view Khan as its most reliable partner in civilian politics, a further deterioration of the COVID-19 virus outbreak in Pakistan and a deepening of economic challenges linked to the pandemic would likely compel the military to abandon its support for the prime minister in order to maintain its own public support. With parliamentary elections not due until 2023, the military in this scenario would seek to orchestrate a change in political leadership outside the election cycle in the six-month outlook, though retain the current coalition. Alternatively, the military would likely also consider supporting the formation of a caretaker government involving members of opposition parties.

Violent unrest would be likely should the military fail to orchestrate Khan's removal through negotiations with the PTI and opposition parties, given that the military would then seek to encourage anti-government protests involving several thousand people to exert pressure on the prime minister.

Posted 25 June 2020 by Asad Ali, Senior Analyst – Asia Pacific, Country Risk & FCM, IHS Markit

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