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THE delay by mainstream political parties in announcing their manifestos will not leave enough time for public debate — needed to enlighten the voters on the merits and demerits of different programmes and policies — before July 25.

The manifestos are about how the fruits of economic development would be shared by various segments of the population including ordinary citizens. The key public concerns are jobs, fair wages, housing for the poor, civic facilities like clean water, affordable and easily available transport facilities, etc, and the rising income disparity in developed urban areas.

The issue of unemployment does feature in casual remarks by political leaders and in party manifestos but much of it appears to be a vision rather than a plan for a five-year term. If elected back to power, former president Asif Ali Zardari recently said that his party would provide a job to one member of every family which has no relative in the government.

The challenges are deep-rooted and too enormous to be tackled by the cash-starved state and a private sector hamstrung by low capital formation. The party manifestos need to unleash the energies of the people

Announcing the Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) manifesto in Islamabad on June 28, chairman Bilawal Bhutto said that the youth will be provided guaranteed one-year internships and an employment bureau will be set up for ‘creating’ job opportunities.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) 100-day agenda stipulates 10 million jobs in five years. Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) has plans to provide job opportunities to all unemployed people.

Easier said than done. The last PML-N government had also launched youth and self-employment schemes.

Urban renewal has become a major issue that affects not only ordinary citizens and also has an impact on the cost of doing business.

Launching his election campaign from Karachi, the PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif promised that, if voted into power, his party will announce a special package for resolving civic problems listed by the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

PTI chief Imran Khan has said that all policies under the 100-days’ agenda will look into how to make education, employment and other basic rights accessible to the common man.

PTI pledged to build five million houses in five years. In public speeches Nawaz Sharif had promised to build houses for the poor without giving any targets.

On June 5, PTI’s political rival in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the MMA announced a 12-point election manifesto. It pledged to distribute public lands among poor landless farmers, provide interest-free farm loans and reduce taxes on the agriculture sector.

The PPP government intends to issue Benazir Kissan Cards to farmers which will enable them to get subsidy on fertilisers and crop insurance. The PTI agenda calls for emergency measures for the uplift of the agriculture sector.

In the thick of political battles on the frontline, the mainstream parties were unable to finalise and announce their manifestos in time as they did in the 2013 elections.

Fully aware of this obligation, they did take some piecemeal steps before finally announcing their manifestos. Towards the fag end of it’s tenure, the PML-N government came out with its business-friendly sixth budget to further consolidate its foothold in the business community and offered tax concessions to middle-income groups.

And PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif told Geo news that his party would contest the elections on the basis of its past performance over the last decade.

The PML-N’s sixth budget move was followed by the outgoing PPP-government’s cabinet’s decision to hike the exemption limit of agricultural income tax for the benefit of both landed gentry and peasants of small holdings.

The move was designed to strengthen the party’s hold over the rural constituencies in the province. Political parties are accused of a general lack of will to implement their manifestos. This has created a strong impression that representative democracy is dysfunctional and works for a few, not for the many.

As the theory goes, representative democracy bestows upon a nation’s people the sovereign right to rule through their chosen representatives, approve programmes and policies presented by different political parties, and subject their representatives in the national and provincial assemblies to periodical accountability.

The party manifestos have assumed more importance now as the country is gradually moving towards a citizen-based democracy. Over the last decade, the PPP and PML-N governments have successfully completed their five-year, politically-strenuous tenures as mandated by the electorate.

The challenges facing sustainable high economic growth are deep-rooted and too enormous to be tackled by the cash-starved state and the private sector — hamstrung by low capital formation. Party manifestos need to unleash the energy of the people to fend for their livelihood.

And the best way forward is a coalition of the government, business and civil society to work for a people-centred development— an evolving model that was abandoned in the 1970s.

Political parties can ill afford to ignore the emerging consensus among leading liberal economists, as The Economist puts it: “This is an age of inclusion... include the excluded and mainstream the side-streamed.” n

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, July 9th, 2018