EDITORIAL: In an environment where the general election is being presented as the cure to the country’s many problems — democratic, economic, security — it’s simply unfair to voters that none of the leading political parties has concrete solutions to any of them. Indeed, a comparative study by the Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI) reveals that all frontrunners — PTI, PPP, PML-N — have launched fancy manifestoes but they “crucially lack detailed strategies”, especially when it comes to democratic reforms, economic crises, and internal security.
Yet this is hardly the first time that voters are going into a crucial election with so little clarity. Because for the longest time the only answer any party has had to all the problems is that it must come to power. And that’s basically what they are saying this time as well. Nawaz Sharif has once again promised to turn Pakistan into an “Asian tiger” if his party wins and he becomes a four-time prime minister.
PPP is convinced that Pakistan will negotiate all the harsh headwinds only if and when Bilawal Bhutto becomes the head of state. And PTI is more convinced than ever that only Imran Khan has what it takes to turn Pakistan into a real welfare state; the modern day Riyasat-e-Medina.
The same old empty promises are also all over the place. One party promises to distribute free houses to the bottom of the food chain. Another will deliver them free electricity when the power tariff is one of the biggest, cruelest contributors to historic inflation. And yet another will stand the whole system on its head and have a prime minister head a presidential-style arrangement where the people, not the assembly, will directly elect their leader.
Nobody is talking about the most pressing problems. How, for example, will they approach the IMF for better, less difficult conditions for the bailout programme that will be needed as soon as the Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) ends one month after the election? There’s no doubt that the upfront conditions that the Fund now requires will negate all their promises on the campaign trail, perhaps that’s why nobody is talking about this right now. But very soon, whoever wins will have to face this situation as well as the wrath of the people because there’s just no alternative to painful “structural reforms” without which there will be no further loans, and definitely no debt rollover from creditors.
People are also just as clueless as political parties about how they will manage the security situation. For, terrorist attacks and bomb blasts that restarted with the Afghan Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan continued through the election campaign, and show little signs of slowing down.
Before bowing out, the caretaker setup issued two very stern warnings to Kabul, one about “decisive action” if TTP is not reined in and another demanding extradition of the militia’s high command. But since the Taliban did not take any of them seriously, it will fall on the next government to straighten this mess out. But if any of the leading parties have any plans for it, they haven’t bothered to share them with their voters.
Then there’s also the international situation. International politics has undergone substantial change over the last few years, especially with the Russia-Ukraine war and Israel’s genocide in Gaza. It is also splitting into clear camps with another cold war having already effectively started. The new terms of trade would be influenced by, among other factors, how any country postures with regard to new alliances. It’s anybody’s guess where Pakistan is going to stand in the larger scheme of things.
It’s a shame that politicians who cannot stop lecturing about the necessity of representative government are the first to violate one of its core requirements. And the 2024 elections held on Thursday, just like all others before it, featured the political elite that is big on fancy talk and small on necessary detail.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2024