Poll manifestos

Published February 6, 2024
The writer is a political economist with a PhD degree from the University of California, Berkeley
The writer is a political economist with a PhD degree from the University of California, Berkeley

ELECTIONS can rejuvenate nations if they are fair, parties present strong ideas and teams to the masses competitively and the winners have a strong mandate to take the country forward. Thursday’s polls may be among our most rigged, more so after Imran Khan’s dubious convictions last week. Opinion polls suggest a hung assembly. Thus, we may have a rigged and weak new government. This leaves the issue of whether parties have strong ideas and teams.

To convince discerning voters, party manifestos must present an in-depth analysis of why people suffer on account of major issues and the best way of addressing them permanently. In the current scenario, where we face huge economic and security challenges and, with the rest of the world, the impact of climate change, there must be a special focus on these areas. I reviewed the 2024 manifestos of the PTI, PML-N and PPP on such key points. All three were issued days before the elections, reflecting the limited role ideas play in our polls as against catchy slogans and patronage flows. But all are better than their 2018 iterations in terms of length, presentation and coverage. This is especially credible for the PTI, which has the longest and most comprehensive one, despite the state crackdown it faces.

The shortest is the PML-N’s, much of it wasted on large Sharif photos. It is bereft of any in-depth analysis of the root causes of our long-term or current problems, jumping straight into sectoral promises. The PTI’s and PPP’s contain preambles that mention inequities as a root cause of our problems and reflect on our economic and security problems. As expected, the PTI’s reflects heavy religious ideology, but without linking it to concrete policies. The PPP’s reflects no ideology despite its pro-poor rhetoric, its socialist origins nixed long ago.

The PPP’s is the weakest on concrete economic ideas. It promises the sky on increasing income, social services and housing, and aims to increase investment and tax revenues for this purpose. But it hardly contains any concrete ideas on how it would do so. The other two present more meso-level concrete ideas in some economic areas. The PML-N talks rightly of merging investment, industries and commerce to create a ministry of economy, which must also include planning and IT. The PTI and PML-N both have some concrete proposals for exports, investment, industry, etc. However, they fall short of a new and coherent economic strategy that can remove the threat of default and high inflation to attain sustainable and equitable progress. All three lack strong economic teams to translate ideas into successful strategies. The PTI has lost its capacity due to the crackdown it faces, while PML-N has alienated talent by its family-centric politics.

Ideas play a limited role in the manifestos of the three main parties.

The three say little on our second biggest threat, insecurity due to terrorism by TTP and Baloch militants, or their root causes such as societal extremism and genuine Baloch complaints. The PPP talks of its Balochistan package that proved inadequate even the last time. But there is little talk by the parties on solving Baloch complaints or talking to Baloch groups or ending societal extremism. On the mother of all our problems — civilian supremacy — the PML-N has removed the mild talk of its 2018 manifesto but now PTI includes it mildly. Our Constitution needs an overhaul as many anomalies have been unearthed in it in recent years. But the three only mention limited changes. Lack of space does not let me review the other areas in their manifestos. Readers must read them to form informed views.

If the larger parties lack strong ideas, what is the alternative? The manifestos of small leftist outfits like the Awami Workers Party, National Democratic Move­ment and Haqooq-i-Khalq party provide detailed analysis of the root causes of deprivation due to inequities embedded in capitalism. But as small and new parties with limited resources, they need more time to develop concrete ideas and field large numbers of candidates who can win. So, their impact on these polls will be minimal, though I will still vote for them. Readers are encouraged to look more closely at such parties.

Thus, we may get a weak and rigged new regime that lacks strong ideas and teams and is heavily dependent on the security establishment and other elites. It will lack the strong links to or mandate from the masses to challenge elites and make fundamental changes in our elite-dominated political and economic order. So, we may go from one weak and rigged hybrid regime to another that adds to our mounting problems and kicks the can further into the future. This cannot go on forever and ultimately there may be a crash landing.

The writer is a political economist with a PhD degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

murtazaniaz@yahoo.com

X: @NiazMurtaza2

Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2024

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