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OPINION: A big step forward for democracy in Pakistan, but an uncertain step for climate policy


Ali Sheikh and Kashmala Kakakhel, from LEAD Pakistan and CDKN Asia, report from Pakistan on the latest political developments unfolding in Islamabad with the new Prime Minister taking oath last week.

Last week on June 5th Nawaz Sharif was sworn in as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. This day has been marked as a pivotal moment for the country in its short political and constitutional existence. The elected civilian government and parliament completed a full five-year term in office (2008-13) – the first time in the 66 years since the country was born in 1947. The peaceful transfer of power from one democratic civilian government to another is injecting hope and trust into the country’s fragile democratic process. It signifies that despite various challenges, the country’s parliamentary system has finally arrived.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who swept to victory in the elections now enjoys a strong mandate, and is positioned to be in power until 2018. He has taken an oath at a time when the nation’s expectations are skyrocketing and there is great pressure on him to perform well. Top of his agenda is reviving the growth rate  to the level enjoyed in the past, overcoming the energy crisis that has brought the economy to a screeching halt, and handling extremism in the war on terror.

New and stronger pressure groups are emerging that are arguing for higher investment in social sectors – particularly education and health, as well as in renewable energy, disaster preparedness etc. These voices however are still not organised or strong enough to offer a persuasive narrative on climate compatible development.

High expectations and a strong mandate, coupled with a plethora of internal and external challenges means some tough decisions are in order. The new government is starting its work by reducing the size of the government machinery:  at least six federal ministries are being dissolved or merged with other ministries, including the ministry of Climate Change.  This is a continuation of the move made by the previous government where several federal ministries (such as health, education and environment)were devolved to the provinces . The issue of climate change however was separated from the remit of the environment ministry and retained at the national level, making Pakistan one of the very few countries in the world to have a separate ministry for climate change. It seems as if the governance of climate change in Pakistan is once again in for a change. The debate over climate compatible development will have to realign with new institutional infrastructure.

Not only are the number of ministries under scrutiny in Islamabad these days, but also the Prime Minister’s Secretariat which over the years had expanded to house many government institutions: National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is an example. Going forward, in the budget submitted before the Parliament on June 12th, the new government has submitted a bill to cut the Prime Minister’s Secretariat significantly and to transform it into a Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). Several institutions like the NDMA will need to move out and place themselves with various other ministries. The intention is to help the current institutions work more closely together, as well as to lower costs and undertake more long-term policies and initiatives.

With the initial changes in the government machinery in place, Pakistanis as well as the rest of the world will be keen to see how the political debate is carried forward from ‘restoration and survival of the political system’ to a ‘performance-based accountable system.’ The new Prime Minister has a background in business and is aspiring to make the system efficient and transparent. The public support is huge and the test is how effectively he is able to move a lethargic system in his first 100 days.

Picture Courtesy The News

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