April 18, 2018 / 6:07 PM / a month ago

Judiciary won't influence outcome of Pakistan's general election -interior minister

LONDON (Reuters) - Pressure from Pakistan’s judiciary won’t influence the outcome of upcoming general elections this year, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said on Wednesday, adding he hoped the election would be free and fair.

FILE PHOTO: Ahsan Iqbal Pakistan's Minister of Planning and Development speaks with a Reuters correspondent during an interview in Islamabad, Pakistan June 12, 2017. Picture taken June 12, 2017. REUTERS/Caren Firouz/File Photo

Earlier this month, Pakistan’s Supreme Court disqualified deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party from holding office for life amid an ongoing corruption trial.

Sharif and his family have called the corruption proceedings a conspiracy and hinted at intervention by the military, but opponents have hailed them as a rare example of the rich and powerful being held accountable. The military denies any such intervention.

“We hope elections will be fair and free as the country can’t afford any crisis as a result, but recently there are some concerns due to the judicial activism and how the national accountability bureau has been pursuing cases against only one party,” the minister told Reuters, speaking at Pakistan’s High Commission in London.

He also highlighted complaints by media groups that they had not been allowed to broadcast.

But he did not think such activities would affect the election’s outcome: “In the past we have seen attempts to influence the process but when millions of people vote it is very difficult to control the outcome.”

The minister said the election would most likely be held in the last week of July and he expected the PML-N to win on the back of its economic record. It gained control of the parliament’s upper house in a secret ballot in early March.

He expects a GDP growth rate of 6.2 percent in 2019 and 6.4 percent in 2020, up from 5.8 percent in 2018 according to provisional estimates from Pakistan’s Bureau of Statistics.

FUNDING GAP

But a surge in imports, in part driven by purchases of machinery for the Chinese Belt and Road projects, has widened Pakistan’s current account deficit and prompted analysts to suggest the country may need an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bail-out in the coming 12 months.

Iqbal said he did not think Pakistan would go to the IMF this year but would bridge the funding gap via other means, such as improved exports performance, economic growth, more foreign direct investment and remittances by Pakistani nationals overseas.

He was also hopeful that a tax amnesty aimed at broadening the government’s revenue base, which will run until end-June, will be a major contributor to rebuilding foreign exchange reserves, which have been depleted.

Iqbal said about $2 billion could be repatriated from overseas as part of the amnesty.

But in terms of tapping international capital markets, he said that no decision had been taken yet on whether Pakistan would issue more eurobonds this year, following $2.5 billion of issuance in December.

WATCHLIST

However, the prospect of Pakistan being placed back on a global terrorist financing watchlist could cause real financial pain to the economy.

Washington and its European allies co-sponsored a motion in February calling for the nuclear-armed nation to be placed on a “grey list” of countries deemed to be doing too little to comply with anti-terrorist financing and anti-money laundering regulations by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

Iqbal said if Pakistan was put back on such a list and there were economic consequences, its security operations would suffer, as it would deny Pakistan the resources to fight militants.

He added that attempts by Western countries to impose conditions on Pakistan’s agenda in fighting terrorism were unhelpful as it allowed extremists to argue the government was acting as a stooge of foreign powers: “It denies us our space to move against these groups in full force.”

Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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