Season of Lofty Promises
The underlying assumption in each of political forces manifestos is that with their coming into power will lead to an instantaneous resolution of the myriad difficulties being faced by the Pakistani people.
By Qamar Bashir
The elections 2024 are unfolding in a landscape marked by intense competition and heightened political rhetoric. Major parties are engaging in a familiar cycle of blame games and lofty promises, often overlooking the complex economic and financial situation of the country.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has adopted a strategy that focuses on criticizing its main rival, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), branding it as responsible for the May-9 incident. Interestingly, PML-N appears to be distancing itself from its recent governance period from April 2022 to August 2023, instead choosing to spotlight the successes of its previous three tenures.
The party argues that had its past governments not been disrupted, Pakistan might have achieved greater economic and financial stability and vow that a return to power would enable the party to reconnect with its past accomplishments and transform Pakistan’s future.
The PML-N’s manifesto for the February 2024 elections, set to be officially released on January 27th, is expected to address a range of critical issues across various sectors including combating inflation, stabilizing Pakistani rupee, attracting foreign investment, and enhancing export capabilities. It promises to build roads, railways, power projects, and water management, improving seed quality, enhancing irrigation systems, and increasing access to agricultural loans. It promises to provide relief to underprivileged communities, through targeted subsidies and social safety net programs, improving healthcare and education, empowering youth and women, including programs to boost employment and workforce participation. On the national security front, the PML-N is expected to reaffirm its commitment to combating terrorism and extremism and outline steps to improve diplomatic relations with neighboring countries, including India.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is strategically positioning itself against its key political rival, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). PPP’s campaign focuses heavily on countering Nawaz Sharif, in his bid for a fourth term as Prime Minister. PPP’s chairman asserts a significant role in the ouster of the PTI government and targets PML(N) for alleged injustices against women, promising to rectify these upon coming to power.
The PPP manifesto articulates a 10-point welfare agenda aimed at addressing social welfare, poverty, unemployment, and inflation. This includes promises to double the real income of wage earners, provide free solar energy to the poor, ensure education and healthcare for all, build housing for flood affectees and the impoverished, expand welfare schemes, and support farmers and laborers. The manifesto also highlights youth empowerment and the ‘Bhook Mitao Programme’.
The political landscape for PTI, now led by Barrister Gohar Mohammad Khan, is notably challenging. With its founder Imran Khan incarcerated for over six months, the party faces significant internal strife, manifesting in splits like the Istehkam Pakistan Party (IPP) and PTI Patriots. The situation is compounded by the legal troubles of many of its leaders, with some in jail, others in hiding, or having abandoned politics altogether. Lately it lost its iconic “BAT” election symbol is a symbolic setback.
Despite these challenges, PTI’ is envisioning a prosperous Pakistan where justice, self-esteem, and mutual respect prevail. The party aspires to build a just society, emphasizing Pakistan’s untapped potential due to past leadership failures. PTI’s dream is for Pakistan to be self-reliant, respected globally, and for its justice system to be fair and impartial, serving all citizens equally. Its manifesto reflects a commitment to governance reforms, including enhancing government accountability, empowering local governance, depoliticizing the police force, reforming the criminal justice system, and introducing E-Governance and legislative reforms. These initiatives aim to improve public service delivery and ensure press freedom, highlighting PTI’s focus on structural changes over immediate financial gains.
The Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP), officially registered in October 2023, presents a distinct political narrative in Pakistan’s political arena. The party, emerging in a context marked by allegations of being orchestrated by the government of Shahbaz Sharif and supported by the interim government, has faced controversies regarding the wealth of its top leaders. Despite these challenges, the IPP crafted a comprehensive manifesto emphasizing political and economic reforms aimed at bridging societal divisions.
The party, adopting the slogan “Tameer, Taraqqi, Khushhali” (Development, Progress, Prosperity), aims to embody the principles of Quaid-e-Azam and seeks to reform Pakistan’s political landscape. Key manifesto commitments include setting a minimum labor salary of Rs 50,000 with mandatory insurance, providing free electricity up to 300 units, and granting ownership rights in “Kachi Abadis.” It promises low-cost housing solutions, integrating madrasa graduates into mainstream society. It promises half-priced petrol for motorcyclists and free air-conditioned transport for seniors, women, and students besides offering interest-free loans for youth and women, and the establishment of new educational and technical institutions.
The election landscape in Pakistan is witnessing a trend where various political parties, including Jamaat-e-Islami, PTIP, MQM, and JUI, are presenting manifestos filled with ambitious and grandiose promises. These manifestos seem to paint an overly optimistic picture of the country’s economic and social capabilities. They suggest that upon their election, the complexities and challenges currently facing Pakistan will be swiftly resolved, almost miraculously transforming the nation’s fortunes.
These promises often give the impression that Pakistan’s economy is already functioning at an optimal level, that the human capital of the country has suddenly achieved peak efficiency and productivity, and that business, investment, trade, and other processes have reached the highest levels of proficiency. The underlying assumption in these manifestos is that the mere act of a political party coming to power will lead to an instantaneous resolution of the myriad difficulties faced by the Pakistani people.
This is unfortunate that political parties, well aware of the precarious state of the economy, continue to make grandiose pledges, despite knowing the inherent challenges in realizing these goals. The stringent conditions imposed by the IMF and other international donor agencies further tighten the constraints under which the country operates, leaving an extremely narrow window for actual policy implementation.
This reality poses a significant challenge for the incoming government. While the electoral promises aim to address the country’s pressing needs and aspirations, their feasibility in the face of fiscal constraints and external obligations remains a major question.
Pakistan’s economic landscape is dominated by a daunting external debt burden of $77.5 billion, due over 2023-2036, creating a precarious financial situation. In the immediate term, the country faces hefty repayments, including $1.4 billion to Chinese institutions and Saudi Arabia, alongside $15 billion in short-term and $7 billion in long-term debt. The first quarter of FY24 alone sees obligations totaling hundreds of millions to various creditors. Compounding these challenges is the staggering circular debt, with PKR 2.5 trillion in the power sector, PKR 570 billion in gas, and state-owned entities hemorrhaging Rs. 750 billion annually.
Inflation rates reflect these economic stresses, soaring from 12.37% in 2021 to a staggering 37.97% in May 2023, driven by global commodity prices, currency depreciation, and political instability. While a slight deceleration is predicted, with an average of 23.33% in 2024, easing to 17.30% in 2025, and 10.14% in 2026, these figures remain alarmingly high. The Pakistani Rupee’s trajectory mirrors this turmoil, depreciating significantly from 2020 to 2023, with predictions of continued fluctuations between 250 to 300 in the coming years.
In today’s digitally connected era, the heightened awareness and access to information among the people of Pakistan, fueled by social media and various information sources, have become a critical factor that political parties seemingly overlook in their election strategies. The electorate is increasingly capable of scrutinizing the feasibility of the promises made against the backdrop of Pakistan’s challenging financial and economic situation. They understand the constraints any incoming government will face, especially the stringent conditionalities of the IMF program and the looming threat of default if Pakistan opts out of it. This awareness leads to a growing recognition that many of the promises might be more aspirational than achievable. In light of this, it’s imperative for political parties to reconsider and rationalize their manifestos, aligning them more closely with the country’s real economic capabilities and constraints. This shift towards more grounded and realistic political pledges could be a crucial step in fostering a more informed and pragmatic political discourse in Pakistan.
The writer is the former Press Secretary to the President of Pakistan, former Press Minister at Embassy of Pakistan to France, and former MD-SRBC.