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ISLAMABAD: While general elections are only one month away, none of the country’s main political parties has come out with its manifesto, exposing their non-seriousness about challenges facing the nation and how to address them.

In established democracies, the party manifesto is considered to be the most important part of an election campaign as it is through this document that political parties give their viewpoint on important national issues and announce a strategy to deal with challenges.

Take a look: Mottos and manifestos

A manifesto is known as a “published verbal declaration” through which parties express their “intentions, views and vision” about national issues and also make public their “motives” and “targets” which they plan to achieve after assuming power.

Political experts believe that a manifesto is actually a pledge a political party makes with people before elections and later it acts as a gauge to measure its performance.

MMA is the only political force to have announced its manifesto; PPP document is in printing process; PTI to release its in first week of July; no word about PML-N’s

“The manifesto is the best tool to make parties accountable,” said a senior journalist, Zaigham Khan, who has been covering elections for the last three decades. He said in the manifestos, parties should not only make pledges and announce their programmes, they should also inform the nation how they would achieve their objectives and implement their plans.

In Pakistan, however, political parties publish only a few thousand copies of their manifestos before an election, considering it a mere formality only for the consumption of the media and for political debate.

Since the parties have failed to function as an institution and due to lack of ideology-based politics, even election candidates are often found ignorant about manifestos of their parties.

In 1970, when the country had its first direct general elections, the founder chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) announced his party’s manifesto with the popular slogan of “Roti, Kapda aur Makan” (Bread, clothes and shelter). Since then, this slogan has been part of each and every manifesto the PPP has announced before each election.

In the 2013 elections, the party had added “education, health, jobs for all and elimination of terrorism” in its primary slogan. The title of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)’s manifesto was “National Agenda for Real Change: Strong Economy, Strong Pakistan” whereas the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) had come out with its manifesto with the title “New Pakistan: Justice, Peace and Prosperity”.

It is interesting to note that only the recently-revived alliance of religio-political parties Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal has so far announced its manifesto for the July 25 elections whereas other established parties, including the PPP, PML-N and the PTI, are yet to announce their manifestos.

When contacted, the leaders of the three major parties said their manifestos were in final stages and they would made public soon.

Farhatullah Babar, a member of the PPP’s manifesto committee, said the party had handed over its manifesto to a press for printing and it planned to unveil it at a special ceremony in Islamabad this week. PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari would highlight salient features of the manifesto which has been prepared by a committee headed by Senate Deputy Chairman Saleem Mandviwala.

According to spokesman for the PPP chairman, Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, this would be the 10th manifesto the party would be announcing during the last five decades. He claimed the PPP’s manifesto carried “imminent programmes for the uplift of the deprived and oppressed people of the country.”

The spokesman said the PPP alone gave its manifesto for implementation on programmes after the elections.

“The PPP vows that all the commitments made to the people through the manifesto will be honoured,” he added.

PTI information secretary Fawad Chaudhry said the party planned to release its manifesto sometime in the first week of July whereas the information secretary of the formerly ruling PML-N, Mushahidullah Khan, expressed his ignorance over the issue, saying that he had no knowledge when the manifesto would be ready.

The only positive aspect of the conversation with these leaders is that they all have the realisation that manifestos are important documents and that their parties should take up the exercise more seriously.

Mr Babar said his party gave much importance to the manifesto and that was why it took so long to finalise it. He claimed that the party had plans to send copies of its manifesto to all its candidates so that they could make speeches during their election campaigns in the light of the document.

Mr Chaudhry admitted that parties did not give due importance to the manifestos.

“Yes, you are right. We should have released our manifesto much earlier to provide sufficient time for a public debate and time to intellectuals to make comparisons and analyse the manifestos of all the parties,” said the PTI leader. However, he said, the party had already announced its 11-point agenda for the elections and 100-day programme which it wanted to implement during the first 100 days in government. He said the party’s manifesto would mainly revolve around these two documents.

Exuding optimism and confidence, PTI chairman Imran Khan had last month unveiled the party’s ambitious “agenda” outlining the party’s commitments for starting work within the first 100 days of forming its government after the elections.

The salient features of the agenda are expeditious merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, bifurcation of Punjab province and reconciliation with estranged Baloch leaders.

The agenda also contains a plan for introducing a development package for Karachi and a programme for alleviation of poverty from the country, besides a number of steps for improvement of the economy.

The agenda is based on six themes — transforming governance, strengthening the federation, re-vitalising economic growth, uplifting agriculture and conserving water, revolutionising social sector and ensuring national security.

The five-party alliance MMA through its 12-point election manifesto announced on June 6 has covered almost everything from local government to protection of Muslim minorities in other countries.

Announcing the manifesto, MMA chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman had regretted that Pakistan had never had an independent foreign policy since independence.

The salient features of the MMA’s manifesto include independent foreign policy, enforcement of Shariat, land for landless peasants and jobs for locals in the projects being carried out under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2018