The urban elite appears to be relieved at the exit of the PPP-led coalition government on March 16 and excited about the future as the country moves steadily towards elections in May.
There were few businessmen who were not particularly thrilled with what they called ‘democratic experiment’.
They wished for a clear pro-market caretaker setup for at least next two years. They believe that, given a chance, a technocrat-led government with support from the right quarters, free from burden of populist demands of the electorate, stands a better chance to steer the economy out of troubled waters.
In the countryside, political loyalties appeared to be stronger and broadly, the tilt in the rural hierarchy was found to be in favour of Pakistan Peoples’ Party. However a market watcher did not agree. “Please do not read too much in current position of the landed aristocracy. They might prefer PPP. However, the brief political history of the country tells us that they are the first ones to jump ship when power equation shifts”, he remarked.
Generally, the business community of Karachi sounded comparatively more disillusioned with civilian rule than their counterparts in other parts of the country. An informal random survey found seniors in the private sector business to be more sceptical than the new generation.
Some Karachi business heavyweights interpreted the state of the economy under PPP rule as a failure of the system that vested the reins of power in the hands of elected but incompetent, self- serving politicians.
“I hope people understand now why we detest democracy. The economy shrank and the growth decelerated during the last five years. It vindicated our position. Democracy has not delivered at least in the realm of economy”, one of the leading traders asserted talking to Dawn.
The average growth rate under General Musharraf period was six per cent that fell to three per cent under the PPP-led coalition government.
“I believe such generalisation is unfair. We must not let biases blur our vision. When corporates make profits across sectors, capital market booms and export hikes it can possibly not be too bad for the private sector after all. Ask auto, textiles, cement and drug makers. They all did better than before in the last five years”, a textile mill owner of Punjab told Dawn.
“It is up to researchers to explain factors responsible for the underperformance of economy under democratic governments. I do not think the last government deliberately tried to harm anyone. It was too busy saving itself to bother anyone”, he dismissed the accusation on PPP for being anti-market.
“Besides, in the modern age, businesses simply cannot hope to succeed in isolation. It is smart business move to respect international public opinion in favour of democracy. Our ability to perform well in market (local and global) can be compromised if we are perceived as greedy people ready to side with repressors”, said a foreign qualified auto maker.
“If you find our opinion coloured, pick up the official economic data. The numbers speak for themselves. How far can three per cent growth rate take a country where population increases by two per cent annually? The current wave of lawlessness cannot be explained if we exclude economic mismanagement of the last government”, a businessman, who was recently harassed by extortionists said.
The leadership of the business community from across the country did not hide its excitement at the dissolution of assemblies or mince words in listing the failings of the elected government.
They said they did not expect jialas (PPP members) to fare any better but were pleasantly surprised at the ease with which they left Islamabad after the completion of their term.
“They did not show much respect to rule of the law in matters of governance. There is hardly a business deal in the public sector over the past five years that has not been mired in controversy and tainted with corruption accusations”, said a key leader.
“Without access to the right people and ready cash at hand to pay for facilitation, nothing that involved the government was doable during Gilani/Raja period”, a tycoon who represented his class in several meetings in the presidency commented.
“Yes, I did not expect them to give up power voluntarily. May be, they thought they could return again after elections. I think they are in for a rude shock. No sane person would want tried and failed people to lead them. I hope and pray that they are out for ever”, he added.
An executive of a private sector think tank confirmed that there was sudden change in atmosphere in business circles after the announcement of the election date.
“The thick cloud of cynicism is disappearing, giving way to bright sunshine of hope. People are discussing future positively. They are contemplating on different possible configuration that May elections 2013 could throw up”, he said hinting at some recent meetings of bold and mighty in provincial capitals.
“People who trembled at the very thought of election because of security situation seem to have forgotten their earlier position. They were seen defending holding of elections even in troubled northern belt. They now believe it to the best way to isolate violent extremists in society”, he told Dawn.