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Manifestoes are a contract between political parties and the voters, and parties are bound to deliver on it. Pakistan has different history.

Political parties make promises more as slogans, and not as actionable pledges with the voter. Almost all the major parties have presented their manifestos for election 2024, February 8, with PML-N presenting it just one and half week before the election.

The table at the end of this article compiles the manifestos by thematic focus of three dominant political parties in Pakistan: PMLN, PPP, and PTI. The manifestos seem similar at the onset, but upon careful analysis, a clear contrast emerges amongst the various manifestos: PMLN seems more focused on economic reforms, PPP on social reforms, and PTI, amid all its struggles, on institutional reforms.

Elections 2024: PPP’s manifesto

Throughout Pakistan’s political history, the manifestos, more a set of good-day promises made solely for fishing votes, have lacked foundation in economic viability. Resultantly, these manifestoes have not been translated into concrete economic agendas. This has brought us, where we are–a struggling economy. Regrettably, the situation remains unchanged this time around.

At first glance, yet another promise of creation of ten million jobs catch the attention, this time by PML-N. Indeed, PTI drops it, only for PML-N to pick it up. Setting aside political affiliations, the question remains: how will 10 million jobs be created in this economy?

This will require a 6-7 per cent GDP growth rate driven by growth in labor-intensive sectors. In the present context, it seems like a good-day promise. Ten million jobs are hard to come by at a 2-3 percent growth rate.

Although the economy is recovering better compared to the past 5 years, it is likely to oscillate between high inflation and low growth in the near future.

Considering this scenario, economic policies are expected to remain focused on stabilisation.

Elections 2024: PML-N’s manifesto

Under such circumstances, PML-N’s pledge to reduce inflation below 10 per cent from the current 28.3 per cent, and to achieve an economic growth of 6 per cent in contrast to the IMF and central bank’s projection of 2-3 per cent for the current fiscal year until June-end, appears to be a baseless promise. Overall, the economic turnaround promised in manifestos is a tough ask.

Interestingly, the only party making promises about GDP growth is PML-N—the other two have missed it. While they make indirect references to GDP growth, no clear targets have been set by them. Another rosy promises is increasing salaries two-fold within five years surely wins the pot. Without a long-term focus on improving productivity, any increase in salaries (read: nominal salaries) is only going to translate into higher inflation.

Most of the promises are in direct contrast to the much needed IMF program. To avoid default, the incoming government will have to immediately secure a new IMF program in April—any other options will have its own costs. Under an IMF program, PPP’s commitment to providing free electricity, PML-N’s target to create ten million jobs and similar other well intentions hold little promise.

Elections 2024: Jamaat-e-Islami’s manifesto

A comparison of election manifestos on their face value allows the reader to see areas where there is consensus among political parties: there seem to be an agreement on the need for deep structural reforms including tax reforms, State-Owned Enterprises (SOE) reforms, and introduction of e-governance for better service delivery and greater accountability.

These reforms are much needed for greater fiscal sustainability. Worryingly, these promises remain unfulfilled for decades.

Moreover, the role of private investment in stimulating growth appears to be a common theme across political parties with enhanced focus on the IT and agriculture sectors. All parties also understand the role of equitable access to credit in boosting investment and facilitating and enabling small farmers to become more productive through use of new technologies.

There also seems to be consensus on the need for social sector development with universal access to education, health, and basic services.

Promises of job creation, vocational trainings, and more rigorous labor policies to improve employment and employability are ubiquitous among all political parties.

However, if these promises have persisted over time and are shared by all parties, the question arises: why do these promises remain unfulfilled?

Some areas fail to earn consensus. Surprisingly, formation of South Punjab as a separate province wins only PPP this time. Both PTI and PML-N have advocated in favor of south Punjab as a separate province previously. In this election cycle, PML-N has shifted its focus from advocating for South Punjab to prioritising the mainstreaming of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), marking a significant departure in their regional administration priorities.

Pakistan didn’t default, but its citizens certainly did

While elaborate promises are made in each manifesto, none of them addresses the elephant in the room: the IMF. None of the political parties have succeeded in presenting a clear action plan regarding negotiations with the IMF, including strategies for debt restructuring and repayment.

Developing a plan to deal with IMF should be the top-priority for political parties as they will instantly have to negotiate a new deal in April upon the conclusion of current program. Similar holds true for reforms for economic governance.

Presenting elaborate election manifestos is a longstanding practice in Pakistan—political parties have made unreal promises over the years with little to no follow-through as there are no checks and balances. But this time the manifestos have earned more time and attention. It is now time to begin monitoring manifestos as a benchmark for assessing government performance. Political parties forming government in Islamabad and provinces must be reminded its manifestos.

Holding the political parties and the government accountable by evaluating the promises outlined in election manifestos can enhance both the significance of manifestos and the performance of government.

In the absence of such mechanisms, political parties will continue to make promises to appeal to their electorate, without even considering to deliver on them. Therefore, it is essential to mainstream manifestos to monitor government performance.

This shift can transform manifestos from mere good-day promises into actionable economic agendas.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Sajid Amin

The writer is Deputy Executive Director and Senior Research Associate at Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI)

Arooj Waheed

The writer is Deputy Executive Director and Senior Research Associate at Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI)


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Imran s Feb 09, 2024 03:39am
This article makes me wonder if educated citizens still believe in democratic model that destroyed the country, who would tell people that system has failed miserably, all needs rebooting.
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