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EDITORIAL: Much of the Pakistani public didn’t really need a PIDE (Pakistan Institute of Development Economics) study to know that leading political parties are not aware of, or perhaps don’t care for, its most pressing problems. But a quantifiable breakdown is still helpful.

It turns out that the three major political parties – PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz), PPP (Pakistan People’s Party), PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) – “talk or have solid ideas about only 20 percent of the key economic and policy issues of Pakistan”. All of them make big claims on the campaign trail, vowing to rid the country of poverty, insecurity and corruption and turning the economy around, but promptly forget about all such promises when they come to power.

Yet this isn’t exactly surprising, nor is this a strictly Pakistan-specific issue. The problem lies in the form of representative government, conveniently misrepresented as democracy, where the first past the post is declared the winner and allowed to form government. And it’s understandable that the rush to get the largest number of votes in the shortest possible time forces shrewd politicians into a war of populist claims and sabre rattling rhetoric. This practice is far removed from the spirit of institutional democracy, of course, which requires thorough debate across all segments of society to allow informed opinion to dictate voting trends.

Interestingly, the world’s strongest and most trumpeted democracy, the United States, is no different when it comes to politicians honouring claims from the campaign. Even its presidential system is all about the first party crossing the finish line and forgetting most, if not all, that was promised.

In countries like Pakistan, though, this trend amplifies underlying problems and makes life unbearable for the common man. It’s the political elite’s ignorance about basic economics, for example, that is at the heart of the country’s debt bomb and impending sovereign default. We may have dodged the bullet for this fiscal, but it will reappear the minute the Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) breaks down or there are problems negotiating a subsequent bailout programme even if this one is successfully completed. And the people that cast votes, not the politicians that lie to get them, will pay for the hyperinflation and record unemployment that follows.

PIDE’s research reveals a “critical disconnect” between pre-election promises and post-election reality in fundamental areas like “economic disparities, infrastructure, unemployment, education, healthcare, governance, corruption, security, environment and human rights”, which just about covers all areas of importance for the country and its people.

Little surprise, then, that an atomic power and once one of the fastest growing economies in Asia is now one of the most densely populated and poorest countries in the world, its water abundance has turned into water scarcity, 60-70 percent children are born stunted, and the economy is reduced to a time bomb waiting to detonate.

It’s simply too much to expect anybody, especially political parties, to learn anything from all this. That leaves it to the people to find their own way. But since they are always dependent on government policy, and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) bailout mandates removing all subsidies and increasing taxes incrementally, they are not left with too many options except to continue paying for the excesses, lies, theft and corruption of their leaders.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023


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