Eagerly yearning for stability, businesses in Pakistan seem to be somewhat disengaged from political parties’ manifesto-crafting processes.

Part of the reason might be that they anticipate that no single party will secure more than 30 per cent votes and envisage the formation of a coalition government following the current interim administration.

“While it may sound somewhat cynical, the stark reality is that in the last two decades, Pakistan has witnessed the rule of each of the three major parties, both independently and in coalitions. Despite lofty promises of transformative change, enduring issues such as mounting debt, narrow tax net, low productivity levels, excessive public spending and persistent corruption have, in many cases, only worsened. What can be the true worth of political manifestos in the light of this?” questioned a prominent business magnate.

“A ‘charter of economy’, a policy framework of a minimum consensus policy plan, may be better suited to address the current demands. Such a programme, endorsed by all major political parties, could provide a foundation for policy consistency. It has a potential to genuinely improve the business environment substantially,” he recommended.

Pakistan relies on international donors to maintain economic stability but hosts some of the largest and most effective philanthropic entities globally

As the nation prepares for the upcoming elections on January 8th, political parties are said to be finalising their manifestos, presenting their unique visions and remedies for the complex economic challenges, including rising inflation, unemployment, debt and disparities, stagnant investment/exports and insufficient resources at the government’s disposal.

These manifestos are presumed to be important for businesses because they provide valuable insights into the policy direction of potential future government, enabling them to adapt, plan and advocate effectively to protect and advance their interests in a changing political landscape.

In the midst of the International Monetary Fund’s engagement with Pakistan’s leadership to evaluate the progress on donor agreement, it becomes evident that tracking the complex economic challenges of a far-from-typical nation offers no one-size-fits-all solutions. Numerous unexplained paradoxes mark Pakistan.

It defied expectations, both domestically and on the global stage, by demonstrating a remarkable ability to handle the pandemic, outshining even the most advanced countries.

The ordinary citizens of Pakistan have exhibited a distinct propensity for political engagement and expression of opinions when compared to their counterparts in other parts of the world. Despite a notable level of religiosity in society, religious political parties have not fared well in elections.

Despite an economy that has teetered on the precipice, Pakistan has displayed a surprising level of resilience, often better than other comparable economies.

Even a significant portion of the population with limited formal education has adapted to incorporate mobile phones into their daily lives, utilising these devices not only for connectivity but also as tools for generating income, sources for entertainment and platforms for financial transactions.

Questioning their value, businesses appear disinterested in manifestos of the political parties

Pakistan relies on international donors to maintain economic stability but hosts some of the largest and most effective philanthropic entities globally.

The country may be classified as economically challenged, yet in its major cities, it often defies this label. Recent instances of the capital market’s upward trajectory and the currency regaining value against the dollar, despite being in the throes of one of the most severe economic crises, underscores the existence of a Pakistan that is more multifaceted and dynamic than commonly acknowledged.

Returning to the topic of political parties’ manifestos, Ehsan Iqbal, a former federal minister and a key leader of PMLN, stated over the phone, “in addition to our standard economic policy focus aimed at achieving both growth and stability, our leader, Nawaz Sharif, has emphasised the inclusion of a comprehensive programme for judicial independence and reforms.”

Another leader of the party, Irfan Siddiqui, who is tasked with formulating the manifesto, confirmed that it would be unveiled soon. However, the detailed information outlining the essence of the manifesto didn’t reach within the given deadline.

PPP Senator Quratul Ain Marri confirmed that her party has actively engaged in gathering input from experts both within and outside the party. The collaborative effort aims to formulate a pragmatic plan that can alleviate economic hardships and bring the benefits of democracy to the masses.

She emphasised, “Chairman Bilawal Bhutto is closely overseeing the entire process to ensure the right policy direction.” PTI leaders were approached, but they opted not to respond.

Businessmen were candid in their discussion on parties and their expected platforms but reluctant to disclose their identity, fearing a backlash.

Some business leaders expressed their intention to refrain from making assumptions and indicated they would provide feedback once political parties present their election agendas.

Dr Rashid Amjad, former VC Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, shared his thoughts on what he anticipates from manifestos stating, “The current challenge facing the country revolves around achieving stabilisation with human touch. Historically, PML-N has shown pro-industry orientation, while PPP leans towards pro-agriculture policies. PTI, on the other hand, is known for its focus on youth, reform and social justice.”

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, November 6th, 2023

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