- Title: Pakistani PM striving to end energy shortages ahead of 2018 poll
- Date: 10th October 2016
- Summary: KARACHI, PAKISTAN (FILE - 2013) (REUTERS) VARIOUS EXTERIORS OF BIN QASIM POWER PLANT VARIOUS OF MECHANICS WORKING VARIOUS OF ENGINEERS INSIDE PLANT
- Embargoed: 25th October 2016 05:27
- Keywords: power Nawaz Sharif energy Pakistan election
- Location: LAHORE/KARACHI/ ISLAMABAD , PAKISTAN
- City: LAHORE/KARACHI/ ISLAMABAD , PAKISTAN
- Country: Pakistan
- Topics: Government/Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA00353F8A4L
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: In Abdul Aziz's print shop in the teeming city of Lahore, the daily blackouts that plunge him into darkness and silence his rolling presses are costly and chip away at his faith in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
For nearly a decade, power shortages have hobbled Pakistan'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 scheduled general election in 2018.
Forty-year-old Aziz, who lives in Sharif's constituency in Lahore, capital of Punjab province, and has been regularly voting for Sharif's PML-N party, is undecided this time around.
"If power shortages come to an end by 2018, we will vote for him. Last time, we voted for him because he had promised that he would end power load-shedding during his present tenure. So, if load-shedding ends, we will vote for him, otherwise we will not," he said.
Power supply is not the only factor that will decide any poll. A further escalation in tensions with nuclear-armed rival India could destabilise 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 (LNG) plants, pipelines and dams, while private investors are financing wind and solar.
One coal and two new nuclear plants have been constructed.
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.
Chinese companies are arriving in force after Beijing outlined plans in 2014 to invest $46 billion in road, rail and energy infrastructure linking western China with Pakistan's Arabian Sea, with two-thirds of the money earmarked for energy.
Sharif's opponents, however, say the government is so fixated on boosting power generation that it has ignored reforms, like privatizing distribution companies, that would modernize the market and lower the cost of electricity.
Many Pakistani businesses lament the price of power.
Lahore barber Eijaz Ahmed, forced to down tools for several hours every day, fumes about spending up to 60 percent of his revenues on electricity.
"We give 45 to 60 percent of our earnings into electricity (bills). We cannot spend it on our children, or on their education. We spend it on electricity," he said, as his staff sat idle waiting for power to return.
"For the past 25 years, the N-League has been in power in the Punjab. The situation of power outages should have been better in the Punjab at least. We are living in the urban sector, not in any rural area, yet we are facing power outages of 8 hours daily. Countless hours in a week are wasted due to load-shedding. We want something better than this, so that work in the cities can improve," he added.
The drive to boost generation above 17,000 megawatts (MW) and plug a 6,000MW deficit has already yielded some results.
Shortages in big cities, which two years ago went without power for 12 hours a day, are down to about six hours.
"Industrial load-shedding has been brought to zero since 2014. Earlier it was 12 to 14 hours of load-shedding industrial, urban and rural areas. Now we have zero load-shedding in the industries, 6 hours load-shedding in urban areas, and that too in predictable times, and 8 hours in rural areas," said Mohammad Younus Dagha, the top bureaucrat at the Water and Power ministry.
He conceded that some key reforms have not been enacted, but said there was simply too much to do in the space of a few years, and beefing up generation took priority.
"We have to work in phases the first phase. The first phase would be availability of power and second would be affordability, then efficiency, and then market systems. So the first challenge is availability. Once we overcome this availability challenge, we will move towards more reforms and betterment of the system," Dagha said.
Sharif last month vowed that all scheduled outages would end before the next election, likely to be in May, 2018. Sharif's office said generation would hit 26,000MW, a 3,000MW surplus.
Pakistan's long-term energy plans have also been boosted by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, which has spurred interest from foreign investors.
Dagha said in the 20 years to 2014, Pakistan attracted 10,000MW in power generation from foreign investors, but after CPEC was announced, Pakistan secured 12,000MW of future generation from foreign sources in 2015 alone.
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