En­ergy short­age is ex­pected to end ahead of 2018 elec­tion

China Daily (USA) - - WORLD -

In Ab­dul Aziz’s print shop, the daily black­outs that plunge him into dark­ness and si­lence his rolling presses are costly and chip away at his faith in Pak­istani Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif.

For nearly a decade, power short­ages have hob­bled the coun­try’s econ­omy and eaten into Aziz’s prof­its, pre­vent­ing him from hir­ing more staff or ex­pand­ing his fam­ily-owned business.

Sharif swept to power in 2013 vow­ing to erad­i­cate crip­pling out­ages that brought Pak­istan’s $250 bil­lion econ­omy to its knees, but he now faces a race against time to stay true to his word be­fore the next gen­eral elec­tion in 2018.

“If Nawaz Sharif ends (power short­ages) by the elec­tion in 2018, we will vote for him again,” said Aziz, 40, who lives in Sharif’s con­stituency in La­hore, cap­i­tal of Pun­jab prov­ince.

Power sup­plies are not the only fac­tor that will de­cide any poll. A fur­ther es­ca­la­tion in ten­sions with nu­cle­ar­armed ri­val In­dia could desta­bi­lize the gov­ern­ment, as could Is­lamist mil­i­tant vi­o­lence or street protests.

But Sharif has greater con­trol over en­ergy sup­ply, and his gov­ern­ment has spent bil­lions of dol­lars build­ing liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas plants, pipe­lines and dams, while pri­vate in­vestors are fi­nanc­ing wind and so­lar. A ma­jor coal and two small nu­clear plants are also due to come on­line be­fore Sharif’s term ends.

The power projects, co­in­cid­ing with the big­gest road build­ing pro­gramme in Pak­istan’s his­tory, are cen­tral to Sharif’s strat­egy to win the 2018 poll by pro­mot­ing in­fra­struc­ture as ev­i­dence of eco­nomic progress.

Pak­istan’s sput­ter­ing econ­omy has re­bounded in re­cent years, helped by lower global oil prices and im­proved se­cu­rity. Sharif vowed last month that all sched­uled out­ages would end be­fore the next elec­tion, likely to be in May, 2018. His of­fice said gen­er­a­tion would hit 26,000 MW, a 3,000 MW sur­plus.

There are fears, in­clud­ing within Sharif’s own rul­ing PML-N party, that the room for er­ror has shrunk to zero and the am­bi­tious tar­gets could be missed, es­pe­cially after two big hy­dro projects were de­layed.

“There are a lot of mov­ing parts with all th­ese projects,” said one West­ern diplo­mat in Is­lam­abad. “The gov­ern­ment has a com­pre­hen­sive plan, but ob­vi­ously there is some ner­vous­ness about the time­lines.”

Eco­nomic growth hit 4.7 per­cent last July-June fis­cal year, the fastest pace of ex­pan­sion since 2008. Economists es­ti­mate en­ergy short­ages shave up to 2 per­cent off an­nual growth.

Some en­ergy ex­perts say Sharif’s elec­tric­ity goals are within reach.

The Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank, lend­ing Pak­istan more than $1 bil­lion to help al­le­vi­ate the en­ergy cri­sis, ex­pects load shed­ding, or sched­uled out­ages, will be erad­i­cated by mid-2018.

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