Annual budget sessions bring governments under sharp focus the world over. This time of the year generates bitter, stormy discussions not only about the budget document but current and past performances and pitfalls of the government beyond the immediate agenda i.e. budget, come to surface. It’s a sort of an overall review of the sitting government and its leader not only in the parliaments but in front of TV sets at homes, interest groups, in offices and in political circles. This is what we saw in the current year’s budget session this past June that prompted me to take a quick look at some of the salient and persistent aspects of PTI’s governance and I found it an extension of all that we saw in the past.

Before Imran Khan grabbed power almost 3 years ago, through elections, it was generally believed that his rule will be a breath of fresh air with a new and strong team that will change the destiny of Pakistan within the first 100 days. We were given the impression that he and his team had done thorough homework and were absolutely ready to lead; changing the lot of the poor and deprived.

The first doubts appeared when Khan assembled his team, and this doubt, along with dismay, continues with every new edition to “his team”. As time passes and as he continues with quick changes to the squad, it reminds observers of the eras of Musharaf, Zardari and Nawaz Sharif put together where the same names change seats and portfolios. So where is his own team, politically hardened, trained through a long political struggle? Why does it comprise of those who have already been in positions of power under other governments? Did we misunderstand tabdeeli; was it to be delivered under the same persons who have served the past rulers for decades?

Nawaz Sharif and his government reminds us of large infrastructure projects such as the motorway and power projects; PPP, under its different leadership, reflects progressive social policy and legislative reform, and strengthening the federation and parliament. These ‘legacies’ still bear testimony to their governments and hardly anyone can dispute it. This is not to hide these previous governments’ weaknesses nor much trumped up corruption. In comparison, PTI and Imran Khan’s signature feature has been ending corruption, though corruption is rife 3 years since PTI took power; the pretence of focusing on the rule of law and justice though we haven’t seen any strengthening through or of universally-accepted institutions i.e. courts.

Naya Pakistan and Riyasat-e-Madina, both abstract concepts, which at best sell as ambiguous slogans, have hardly been understood or operationalised three years on from PTI’s rule. There are a few major reasons for the confusion around the PTI and its leader, among the general public and within the PTI itself; which has also helped the political opposition thrive; Imran Khan enjoys confrontation rather than consensus; PTI’s performance in legislation-making has been dismal; and the model of development.

On confrontation, if at all he aspires to develop consensus, he wants it on his terms, which is not possible in politics. While his focus remains on confrontation with the opposition and justifying it as a drive against corruption, problems ordinary people faced—inflation, poverty, unemployment, joblessness—have kept piling up. His “non-political” advisors and assistants eager and ever ready to join any power setup, be it civilian or otherwise, seem to be advising him with old and expired prescriptions provided by the IMF and others. Yet disease remains uncured, with international dole outs, affecting price hikes in basic commodities. People were not prepared for a Prime Minister unwilling to listen.

On performance in legislation, PTI’s favourite form of enacting laws and making constitutional amendments has been through presidential ordinances, which otherwise are going out of vogue in many democracies around the world.

Regarding the model of development, while addressing a gathering in Gilgit some time ago, Khan glorified the model of development that was applied in Pakistan 50 years ago in the Ayub Khan era. No doubt there is a strong lobby in the country that so fondly remembers this model and Imran Khan is one of them. Yet every model of development underpins a political paradigm as well. The two eras of Ayub Khan and Zia-ul-Haq, Khan considers ideal in terms of development have left behind deep scars socially and politically and the country is still reeling from their effects. The development these models espoused was uneven at best.

Unclear ideas create uncertainty among people. This, along with anger about inflation and the impatience of the promised Naya Pakistan has started showing at the polls as well. The discontent is widespread enough that PTI has lost by-elections almost everywhere, a clear indication that Khan’s base is narrowing by the day.