ISLAMABAD: In his maiden address as prime minister, Imran Khan labelled the lavish lifestyles of Pakistan’s ruling elite as a “colonial-era mindset” and made good on his promise to take up residence in a three-bedroom home assigned to the PM’s military secretary instead of the Prime Minister House.
The prime minister also plans to have only two servants instead of 524 reserved for a sitting premier and plans to sell a fleet of armoured luxury vehicles to help the national exchequer, a bold move in a country where militants still pose a threat.
“I want to tell my people, I will live a simple life, I will save your money,” he said.
The former cricket legend was sworn in as prime minister on Saturday after his party swept to power in last month’s election. A firebrand populist, PM Imran’s appeal has soared in recent years on the back of his anti-corruption drive, which has resonated with young voters and the expanding middle class in the mainly-Muslim nation of 208 million people.
But he has inherited a host of problems at home and abroad, including a brewing currency crisis and fraying relations with historic ally, the United States.
The 65-year-old did not shed any light on policy plans to deal with the currency woes that analysts expect will force Pakistan to seek another International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout. Instead, Khan focused on debt and said former central bank governor Ishrat Husain would lead a task-force to drive austerity.
PM Imran also appealed to expats to invest in the country and urged the wealthy to start paying taxes, a perennial problem in a nation famous for tax dodging and where less than 1 percent of the population files income tax. “It is your responsibility to pay taxes,” said Khan. “Think of this as a jihad (holy war), that you need to pay tax for the betterment of your country.”
The cricketer-turned-politician said Pakistan was in grave danger from the effects of climate change and promised to reduce some of the world’s highest maternal death rates and infant mortality rates. He also spoke passionately about the need to help 22.8 million out-of-school Pakistani children in a nation where the literacy rate hovers above 40 per cent.
PM Imran, who has never held a government position, named his 21-person cabinet over the weekend, opting mostly for experienced politicians. Opponents criticised the choices, saying about half of the cabinet had served under the former military ruler Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf and were part of the old guard. On Sunday, Khan announced he will oversee the interior ministry.