EDITORIAL: Political parties have no bigger mission than contesting elections and forming government, quite naturally, yet the precarious state of the country, especially the economy, makes the coming general election unlike any other Pakistanis have voted in before.
And statements coming from some senior Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) PML (N) leaders, including the highest levels of the Sharif family, make one wonder if victory would indeed be worth it considering longer term interests of the party.
Hamza Shehbaz’s confession, of sorts, that the campaign would be “very difficult”, betrays the anxiety that has gripped all parties as they prepare to sell the same old dreams to the people.
Only this time everybody, especially the voters, know how hollow they really are. The only way to keep the treasury solvent, and the country running, is to follow extremely harsh and incrementally worse “upfront conditions” that come with every tranche of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout programme.
So, whichever party forms the next government will have to promptly bow to the lenders’ demands, tighten screws to end the SBA (standby agreement) successfully and then quickly negotiate a follow-up programme.
That means slapping more taxes on the people and cutting more subsidies immediately after coming to power. And the last thing politicians need is to make those tall claims on the campaign trail and do exactly the opposite immediately afterwards.
Because even if the winners are able to complete the five-year term – which is always a gamble in these parts – their own policies, no matter how forced, would deliver them the kiss of death, at least as far as the next cycle is concerned.
One would’ve thought that PML (N) would have learned this particular lesson after Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) parties engineered the fall of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government. More than halfway into its term, Imran Khan’s administration was very unpopular at the time.
And if the opposition had only left it alone and let it complete its time, it’s not very likely that many people would have voted for it again. Yet by snatching the reins of power, PML (N)-led PDM also assumed all responsibility for the spillover of the monetary and fiscal tightening that came with the Fund’s largesse and it, instead of PTI, ended up carrying all the blame as well.
The situation is worse this time. And since there’s also the impression that PML (N) is getting the exogenous push that makes all the difference in Pakistani politics, which has now been exposed as something of a stigma, one wonders if it isn’t placing too big a burden on itself by bending over backwards to win the election, regardless of the optics.
For, let there be no mistake, whichever party forms the next government will also become very unpopular very quickly. Most of the 240-250 odd million Pakistanis do not understand the logic behind bankrupting ordinary people to rescue the economy, and rightly so, because it was the elite not the common man that wrecked it.
Strangely, odd and ironic as it sounds, it seems the instinct for self-preservation might dictate not running the fastest close to the finish line this time. PML (N)’s reputation is already in tatters because of what followed the no-confidence motion against Imran Khan.
Because people blame it, not PTI, for everything that went wrong even though it was the previous administration that signed the EFF (Extended Fund Facility) with the IMF, then violated it, with PDM forcing itself into the limelight only to drown itself in all the rot. And, just like that, the house of Sharif lost its previously guaranteed foothold in Punjab as well.
There’s much food for thought there for leading political parties. The system demands that they fight for the crown. But, at this point, it’s a crown of thorns that everybody is fighting for.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023