A mixed bag of manifesto promises

It is in their visions for Pakistan’s economy, security, judiciary and governance where the surprises lie.
Published February 6, 2024

 Parties make the usual grand pledges about education, healthcare, welfare and human rights, but it is in their visions for the economy, security, judiciary and governance where the surprises lie.—AFP/file
Parties make the usual grand pledges about education, healthcare, welfare and human rights, but it is in their visions for the economy, security, judiciary and governance where the surprises lie.—AFP/file

• PML-N plans to abolish NAB; aims to reduce electricity rates, bring inflation and unemployment down to six and five per cent, respectively
• PPP unveils plan to create South Punjab province; promises to de-politicise and de-corporatise national security complex, envisions creation of new federal constitutional court
• PTI pledges 10 million new jobs over next five years, initiatives to enhance judicial accountability; vows to establish ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ to bridge divides

WITH the country mired in an economic crisis as it heads to the polls, it’s little surprise that the country’s three political heavyweights — Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) — have made elaborate pledges on the economic front in their manifestos. Like most promises on the campaign trail, though, their economic plans may be more ambitious than realistic.

While the three parties make the usual grand pledges about education, healthcare, welfare and human rights, it is in their visions for Pakistan’s economy, security, judiciary and governance where the surprises lie.

Economic hopes

Expressing concern over the unsustainability of current economic conditions, all three parties lay stress on inclusive growth, ease of doing business, improvements in anti-corruption and leveraging modern technology, as well as vowing to create jobs for economic resilience. Promising to promote exp­orts too, the three manifestos each also pledge to increase the efficiency of the energy sector and the productivity of the labour-intensive sectors, such as agriculture, manufacturing and construction.

Surprising no one, the PML-N puts economic recovery front and centre in its electoral platform, vowing to bring poverty down from almost 40 per cent to 25pc, the inflation rate down to 6pc and the unemployment rate to five per cent by creating at least 10 million jobs if it takes office. It sets a target of six per cent GDP growth, annual exports of $60 billion and $40bn in yearly remittances from expatriates.

The manifesto also states that a PML-N government would lower the budget deficit to 3.5pc of the GDP — though apart from mentioning ‘frugal spending’ and the privatisation of loss-making state-owned enterprises (SOEs), it does not lay out a concrete plan for how it will do this or reduce inflation, which stayed above 28pc in January. It also mentions elaborate plans for the expansion of the country’s road network.

The party further promises a 20-30 per cent reduction in the price of electricity, though its earlier promise to provide free electricity to those consumers using less than 200 units per month is nowhere to be seen.

The PPP, too, begins its manifesto with its vision for a ‘new people’s economy’, revolving around an ambitious 10-point socio-economic agenda to remedy the “exclusionary nature of the existing economic landscape.”

If the party comes to power, it pledges to double wages within its five-year term, provide free solar energy of up to 300 units to the poorest households and set up green energy parks across the country. Putting agricultural reforms and investments in technological infrastructure at the forefront, it vows also to reform SOEs, end ‘wasteful’ spending and direct greater public and private investment towards local communities.

Moreover, the PPP aims to take the country’s tax-to-GDP ratio to 15 per cent over its term through reforms aimed at provincial and local taxation.

Though the economy is only addressed in the later chapters of the PTI manifesto, the party’s five-year economic agenda focuses on structural reforms, optimising public sector investments, streamlining government operations, and embedding macroeconomic stability in the legislative framework.

The election’s underdogs also claim to have a balanced debt strategy, addressing energy sector debt, institutional improvements in debt oversight, and progressive pension liability management. Their plan includes the refining of government expenditure by optimising the executive branch, restructuring the salaries of bureaucrats, rationalising subsidies, enhancing public procurement systems and running SOEs through public-private partnership schemes.

Like the PML-N, PTI too pledges the creation of 10 million new jobs if it forms a government, aiming also to increase exports to 15 per cent of the GDP in five years.

Pipe dreams and security reforms

With questions about the role of the armed forces looming over the elections, the PPP manifesto talks about efforts to “de-politicise and de-corporatise” the national security complex and increase oversight and accountability of the intelligence agencies — pledges that many will view as pipe dreams. The party also claims it will revisit discriminatory colonial laws, highlighting Clause 2(1d) of the Army Act as an example, and promises to criminalise enforced disappearances.

The PML-N, on the other hand, lays out its vision of strengthening the defence forces if it comes to power. This, according to its manifesto, would involve modernising the armed forces in preparation for fifth-generation warfare, as well as enhancing the country’s aerial warfare capabilities with new fighter jets and drones, and ensuring self-reliance through bolstered local arms production.

The party further vows to maintain a responsible, credible status for Pakistan as a nuclear power, while also stressing the improvement of post-retirement opportunities for soldiers.

Of the three mainstream parties, the PTI has the least to say on the matter of national security, stating only that it will collaborate with the defence industries to commercialise technology for the private sector.

Questions of accountability

Reforms focusing on the accountability of judges and the provision of alternative dispute mechanisms to reduce the strain on the judicial system are another common point of focus for the three manifestos.

Holding fast to its vision of Riyasat-i-Madina, the PTI begins its manifesto with an emphasis on rule of law, promising to update criminal laws, abolish discriminatory laws and to diversify the judiciary by appointing judges on the basis of “merit, diversity, gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background.” It states that it will launch initiatives to enhance judicial accountability and allow easier access to justice for all citizens as well.

The PPP, pointing to criticism of the superior judiciary’s “inability to uphold the constitutional principles and safeguard the fundamental rights of its citizens”, vows to reform the appointment process and accountability of judges and the use of suo motu powers. It also states that it will establish a federal constitutional court.

PML-N, too, insists that only critical and urgent reforms can fix the issues plaguing the judicial system. With a focus on timely provision of justice, the party promises that if it forms a government, no case will be left unheard for more than two months, adjudication time will be limited to a year, and legislative intervention will ensure the timely disposal of civil and criminal cases.

Further, the PML-N manifesto aims for judicial transparency through live broadcasts of important court proceedings and the elimination of legal manipulation by “civil servants”.

More controversially, it states that it will abolish the National Accountability Bureau while also claiming it will strengthen existing anti-corruption institutions. Fur­ther­­more, it insists on the unequivocal supremacy of the parliamentary branch of the government.

New provinces, govt systems

In a surprising move, the PTI proposes a shift to a directly elected prime minister, rather than one chosen by the National Assembly — a change that would take Pakistan from a parliamentary system towards a presidential system. It further calls for shortening the tenures of the National and Provincial Assemblies as well as the Senate, while expanding the use of proportional representation to elect legislators.

In its manifesto, the PTI has also pledged the establishment of a body similar to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bridge divides in the country. It further mentions the creation of new provinces from all existing ones, facilitating the decentralisation of power and resources and making governance more accessible for the people.

The PPP, meanwhile, promises to create a “South Punjab” province in yet another controversial statement. Pushing the further devolution of administrative and financial powers to the provinces, it aims to set up a permanent National Finance Commission to reduce deadlocks and delays, and to include Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJ&K) in the award.

The party vows also to empower the erstwhile Federally and Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (Fata and Pata) with local self-government by implementing the 25th Amendment.

Further, it states that it will make efforts to restore traditional regional trade in the ex-Fata area and revive the Aghaz-i-Huqooq-i-Balochistan initiative. For the people of GB, it supports fiscal autonomy and aims to increase its allocation from the federal government, while also stating that it will increase AJK’s development budget.

The manifestos of all three parties also stress the need to strengthen the local government system. The PPP talks about revisiting Article 140A to ensure the financial, administrative and political autonomy of local government bodies, while the PML-N aims to amend the Constitution to further strengthen their financial and administrative powers, empowering them to raise localised revenue.

The latter also promises to hold fresh elections within 90 days of the dissolution of local government bodies if it takes power.

Planning to develop a specialised local government service cadre to enhance administrative capacity, the party aims to devolve several sectors, including primary health, primary education, social welfare, family planning, sports, transport, child protection, public health, disaster management, rescue services, tourism and the environment to local governments.

Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2024