Imran Khan Tops Bloomberg Survey of Economic Experts Despite Jail Sentence

Former prime minister Imran Khan, who is currently serving a 24-year jail term for corruption and espionage charges, is the most trusted leader among Pakistani finance professionals to steer the country’s economy out of crisis, according to a Bloomberg survey.

The survey, which was conducted in January 2024, asked 12 traders, economists and analysts from some of the nation’s biggest brokerages to rank 12 political leaders on their ability to undertake reforms required to put the cash-strapped economy on the path of recovery.

Imran Khan, the founder of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), emerged as the top choice, with respondents citing his enduring popularity, his vision for a welfare state, and his anti-corruption stance as key reasons to support him.

Nawaz Sharif, the three-time former premier and the leader of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), came second, with respondents mentioning his experience in government, his pro-business policies, and his improved relations with foreign powers as positive factors.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and the chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), was a distant third, with respondents expressing a distrust of dynastic politics, his lack of administrative skills, and his dependence on regional allies as negative factors.

The survey results reflect the growing disillusionment with the country’s electoral system, as Imran Khan has been disqualified to run in the elections due to his convictions. He was ousted from power in April 2022, after the Supreme Court found him guilty of receiving illegal gifts from foreign leaders in the Toshakhana reference. He was also convicted of spying for India in the cipher case, along with his wife Bushra Bibi.

Imran Khan has maintained his innocence and claimed that he is a victim of a political vendetta orchestrated by his rivals and the establishment. He has appealed against his convictions and sought bail on medical grounds, but his requests have been rejected by the courts.

Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif, who was also disqualified from holding public office in 2017 due to the Panama Papers scandal, has returned to Pakistan after four years of self-imposed exile in London. He has revived his political campaign and has been attracting large crowds in his rallies. He has vowed to restore democracy, uphold the rule of law, and revive the economy if his party wins the elections.

According to a Gallup survey conducted in December 2023, PML-N has gained support from voters and is leading the polls with 38% of the vote share, followed by PTI with 28%, and PPP with 18%. The elections are scheduled to be held in March 2024.

The next government will face a daunting challenge of managing an economy that is grappling with low reserves, high inflation, and a large current account deficit. The country is also under an IMF program that requires it to implement tough fiscal and monetary measures, as well as structural reforms, especially in the energy sector.

An analysis by Bloomberg Economics of Pakistan’s misery index, a combination of inflation and unemployment rates, showed that PML-N performed better in managing the economy over the past three decades compared with its rivals, including PTI. The analysis also showed that the economy suffered a sharp decline under the caretaker government that took over after Imran Khan’s removal.

The Bloomberg survey of economic experts, however, suggests that Imran Khan still enjoys a high level of trust and confidence among the finance professionals, who believe that he is the best choice to revive the economy and implement the reforms needed to ensure long-term stability and growth.

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