• Discrepancy found between promises and online discourse
• Three major parties’ manifestoes lack substance, says Pide report

ISLAMABAD: Although political parties have yet to come up with fresh manifestoes for the next general elections, a state-run think tank has concluded that three major mainstream parties —

PML-N, PTI and PPP — have scored less than 20pc on critical macroeconomic, constitutional and social matters of national importance in their past manifestoes and political discourse.

In policy note, “Manifestoes without Substance” and “Digital Dialogues vs Paper Promises: Manifesto Alignment”, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (Pide) said it picked 18 key issues or sectors, which it believed were fundamental to the country, including local government, parliament, elections, cabinet, police, bureaucracy, budget-making, debt management, PSDP, real estate, agriculture, energy, taxation, tariff, trade, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and internet. Each indicator had a maximum of 100 score.

Pide concluded that PPP scored zero in 17 indicators, PTI in 13, and PML-N in 12. Overall, the three major political parties scored less than 20pc, which means they talk about or have some solid ideas about only 20pc of the key economic and policy issues.

“Further dissecting the figure 20pc tells us out of the country’s key issues, only 12pc of these find space in the PML-N manifesto, 7pc in the PPP manifesto and 1.5pc in PTI,” Pide noted.

This demonstrates that manifestoes did not have any substance at large on key national issues. It also “means that political parties don’t have any concrete blueprint to work on if they come into power” and “the lack of substance in manifestoes leads to a myopic approach to governance, ad hocism and serving vested interests only, without any regard for doing something for the long-term development of the country”.

For instance, strengthening local government is merely a promise and scored as zero. In contrast, allowing the property tax regime to serve as the primary revenue generator for local government is a concrete point. Thus, it had been given a 25 score.

How did Pide arrive at such a score? Pide explained that it had been proposing reforms in various dimensions in line with the global best practices for many years. It summarised its proposals in four points for each theme, having an equal weightage of 25pc to each point, making it 100pc. It then compared to what each political party proposed against that theme. If the party’s manifesto propose one of the points that Pide proposed, it received a score of 25 out of 100. If their proposals include all that Pide proposed, then that manifesto secured full marks i.e. 100/100. It is pertinent to note that, manifestoes are being evaluated on actual reform intervention, not mere promises, slogans, and sweeping statements.

In another research project, Pide also compared if there was any convergence between what was mentioned in manifestoes and the digital narratives by the party leaders. The stark disparity between pre-election promises and the reality of online discourse in the post-election landscape, revealed a critical disconnect. Pide analysis showed a concerning neglect of fundamental issues like economic disparities, infrastructure, unemployment, education, healthcare, governance, corruption, security, environment, and human rights on digital narratives by party leaders, which are pivotal for the country’s progress.

“The analysis of discourse by Pakistan’s major political parties from 2018 to 2022 reveals a disheartening trend of limited engagement with substantive issues outlined in their manifestoes. Therefore, to varying degrees, all three do a poor job of reiterating and propagating most of their policy positions envisaged in their manifestoes”, it said.

X, formerly known as Twitter, identified as a significant influencer in shaping political conversations, remains largely underutilised in addressing Pakistan’s socio-economic challenges. Leveraging Latent Dirichlet Allocation to analyse party leaders’ tweets from 2018 to 2022, Pide found no convergence between the vision outlined in manifestoes and the propagation or discourse on X.

For example, the PPP and PML-N leadership focused mostly on family legacies and political conflicts while PTI leader’s discussions primarily revolved around India-held Jammu and Kashmir overshadowing other essential national concerns. “This underlines the lack of focus as well as commitment from the country’s top political leadership”.

Pakistan, like many developing nations, faces multifaceted challenges ranging from economic disparities to inadequate infrastructure to abysmal investment, tepid economic growth, poor taxation, high unemployment, and a broken education system along with a host of other problems. Consequently, the dearth of substantial discussion on policy matters in the online discourse of Pakistan’s major political parties reflects the warped priorities of our leaders and has the potential to exacerbate Pakistan’s socio-economic woes and turn Pakistan into a completely failed state, it said.

Pide said there was an urgency for political parties to realign political discourse with manifesto commitments and prioritise substantive policy matters for Pakistan’s development and prosperity and hence manifestoes should not remain as mere paper promises; they should guide the nation’s trajectory, providing a clear roadmap for governing parties and feasible policy alternatives for the opposition. It called for the need to shift conversations from personal grievances, familial legacies and political mudslinging to tangible policy matters and urged leaders to re-center discussions and leverage social media tools like Twitter for more focused, relevant, and policy-based communication, to address the perpetual challenges faced by Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2023

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