Pakistan’s stock market surged on news of Sharif’s victory. His party, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) is more business-friendly than the outgoing left-leaning government of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Spurring economic growth should be the PML-N’s top priority, not only to uplift society, but to reduce the appeal of violent extremist groups that prey on Pakistan’s alienated and underemployed youth.
The beauty of Sharif’s relatively strong representation in the National Assembly is that he can forge ahead on painful but necessary reforms, starting with tax policy. That, in turn, would appease international lenders and avert a near-term financial crunch. From there, Sharif can build positive political momentum if he revises regulations and creates incentives for private investment in the power sector, thus reducing Pakistan’s rolling blackouts that shackle industrial production and infuriate the public.
Next, the PML-N will need to demonstrate that it can turn enhanced revenues into better government services, from education to infrastructure. Showy new bus lines and highways will invariably be used to reward his loyal constituents in his home base of Punjab Province, but Sharif will also want to consider projects beyond that to escape a reputation for being Punjab-centric and to support the sort of nationwide development required for stability.
Daniel Markey is a senior fellow at The Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., and is the author of the forthcoming “No Exit from Pakistan.”