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Shahbaz Sharif, president of PML-N, says his was the only political party that implemented its programme in the last five years.—AFP
Shahbaz Sharif, president of PML-N, says his was the only political party that implemented its programme in the last five years.—AFP

LAHORE: In what appears to be a shift from its earlier focus on large infrastructure — power generation, motorways, ports, urban transport and so on — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on Thursday promised to “prioritise” human development, poverty alleviation, water security, affordable housing and agro-industrial development for job creation if it was voted back to power in the July 25 elections.

Announcing the party’s election manifesto, PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif said infrastructure development would remain central to his party’s overall economic growth strategy. “But now we can focus on empowerment of the poor by boosting public investment on education and health, creation of jobs and export surplus, new large dams, agro-industrial development as our government in the last five years already rid the nation of debilitating power shortages and other infrastructural bottlenecks,” the former provincial chief minister argued.

He also spoke about the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), saying the initiative was a gift for the people of Pakistan. “Once the project is completed we will see industry, agriculture and services flourish at a fast pace across Pakistan.”

Shahbaz takes potshots at PPP, PTI for doing ‘nothing in their provinces’

Mr Sharif spoke at length about the achievements of the previous governments of his party both in the centre and Punjab, saying the PML-N was the only political party that had implemented its programme in the last five years. “The other (major) parties — Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf — that were given mandate to rule Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have done nothing in their provinces.” He added, “I hope that voters will compare the performance of our opponents and decide on merit to vote us back into power because of the work we have done in Punjab and in the centre.

The former Punjab chief minister said the removal of power crunch and restoration of peace in Karachi and the rest of the country were his party’s two biggest achievements during the last five years. “When we came into power, Pakistan’s economy was reeling under electricity shortage and terrorism. We successfully tackled the issue of long duration blackouts by adding 11,000 megawatts to the national grid to turn around the economy. Similarly, we took initiatives to bring peace to the country and end terrorism.”

He also expanded upon his government’s achievements in social and economic sectors in Punjab, and pledged to replicate the projects he had initiated in the province, across the country. “If we are re-elected we will implement our programme first in other provinces to guarantee that the people there also get the same quality of development and governance that we have ensured in Punjab. We have shown that our party has delivered on its commitments under our leader Mian Nawaz Sharif in spite of our opponents’ negative politics of lockouts and sit-ins.”

He accused his political challengers of creating a mess in their provinces, of bad governance and corruption, instead of making good on their promises to voters. “I challenge them to show a single development project they’ve initiated and completed in their respective provinces,” he said, addressing the PPP and PTI.

Mr Sharif also lamented that those who had “performed and ensured good, transparent and corruption-free governance, and saved public money were forced to face trumped-up NAB cases and had to appear before courts every day, while others ,like Babar Awan, who had failed the people, were not being even asked about their corruption and crimes and the country”.

He said, “I challenge NAB to dig out corruption in the power and other projects we have done in last five years. I also request the honourable courts to take action against us if we have done any irregularity in any project.”

The PML-N manifesto features the pictures of disqualified prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif on its title page along with Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Allama Mohammad Iqbal and Fatima Jinnah. Inscribed on the top of the title page are the party’s new, major themes of its election campaign: Vote Ko Izzat Do (give respect to the public mandate) and Khidmat Ko Vote Do (vote for development).

The manifesto begins with a special message from Nawaz Sharif, who has been in London for the last few weeks where his wife Begum Kulsoom Nawaz has been hospitalised for cancer treatment, recounting his ‘struggle for sanctity of the ballot’ since he was first elected as the country’s prime minister, a job he has held thrice since 1990.

He reminded his supporters of the way his first government was dismissed in April 1993 through a presidential order after his famous televised address in which he had said that he wouldn’t take dictation and had taken a principled position to restore the 1973 election’ for the supremacy of the parliament and sanctity of the ballot. The history was repeated in 1999 when the democratic journey again cut short, and he was ousted in a military coup and sent into exile.

“Like in 1993, we fought back and resisted and made undemocratic forces to retreat. In 2008 the people again brought us back to power in Punjab and in 2013 both in Punjab and in the centre. But a small coterie, a hidden cabal, again hatched conspiracies against us within a year of our coming to power and signing of the multi-billion-dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) deal with China at the cost of economic stability.

“China’s President Xi Jinping cancelled his visit (because of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) sit-in in Islamabad). Finally they succeeded in first removing me from the office of prime minister in Panama Papers case even though those did not mention my name anywhere and then from the office of president of the PML-N,” he said, in the message read out by Maryam Aurangzeb.

“Pakistan is at a crossroads. Will the destiny of Pakistan be decided by a small coterie, a secretive cabal and a conspiratorial clique or the ordinary men and women through the power of the ballot?” the former premier asked, expressing his confidence that the people would again support him for the cause of democracy. “‘Vote ko Izzat do’ is not just a slogan but is an article of faith for me. I have full confidence that we are on the right side of the history and truth will prevail,” he concluded.

Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2018