The country’s future after the elections will depend on how representative and empowered the newly elected government is to manage issues holding up balanced, sustainable and inclusive development for the required economic growth rate.

It is generally expected that an unstable hybrid arrangement, pre-poll environment and divisive politics would throw up a fragile coalition government with questionable ability to tackle enormous challenges.

Business leaders fear that a weak coalition government and a hung parliament may weaken their resolve to address the pressing problems, including hurdles in securing a new International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme. Any delay in the IMF deal, they added, could disrupt the economy.

The Business Group Pakistan has pointed out that giving quick relief to the masses will be challenging for the new government owing to the scarcity of resources and IMF constraints. Though major parties did not mention anything about the next IMF programme in their manifestos, their leadership has informally recognised the need for implicit reforms in recent meetings with Fund officials.

The challenge facing the incoming government will be to draw up a realistic plan of action to implement the common agenda and stick to it

As former prime minister Khakan Abbasi said, the political leadership must make the elections meaningful and provide a way to solve the country’s problems.

Apart from a fresh electorate mandate, whatever its worth, the relative strength or weakness of the government will also depend on how a broad-based, inclusive and cohesive coalition partnership is forged based on a common implementable agenda in case of mostly likely split electorate mandate.

A robust participatory democracy has become inescapable to forge stable federal governments, with most political parties restricted to their provincial or regional strongholds. On top of it, to quote Javed Jabbar, the historical record shows that the winning parties and candidates represented only a minority of total registered voters.

In case of a national consensus or forging of a common agenda by coalition partners, the political parties can retain their independence to pursue policies and programmes that are not part of the agreement, as well as the freedom to criticise lapses in the performance of the relevant authorities.

As S&P Global Ratings says, a ‘more stable political environment is likely an important precondition to repairing the government’s creditworthiness.

Multiple modes of accountability are required to improve governance and public service delivery significantly

The opportunity for evolving a common agenda lies in an informal emerging national consensus on tackling such issues as ending political polarisation to solve problems facing the people. In its manifesto, PTI has vowed to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bridge divides.

Further, all institutions should work within their constitutional mandate; local bodies should be effectively empowered. Human resource development should be prioritised. Rhetoric about inclusive growth is turning into a serious national issue with the cost of living crisis, rising unemployment, and poverty worsened by a persistently high inflation rate. Then, analysts also see similarities in the manifestos of the three major parties.

It may be noted that it was the national consensus that ensured the holding of elections on February 8 despite serious doubts created by the prolonged unconstitutional tenure of the caretaker governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The more serious challenge facing the incoming government will be to draw up a realistic plan of action to implement the common agenda and stick to it. A study by the Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI) of PML-N, PPP and PTI manifestos notes a lack of strategies for democratic, economic and security issues.

The long-term solutions lie in the widest possible active participation of citizens to build a better future. For this to happen, rights and responsibilities must be so distributed among the three tiers of government that what is manageable by district governments should lie outside the provincial jurisdiction, and tackling their common interests should be the responsibility of the sub-federations. The same principle should apply to define federal-provincial responsibilities.

It is social exclusion, social erosion and political, economic and cultural backwardness in the tribal belt that is the breeding ground for militancy, insurgency and a culture of violence in the country. With avenues opened up for a decent livelihood for those left out, much of the national security problem would be eased, and democratic politics would find stronger moorings.

Regarding the impact of the politics of agitation, protests and resistance, political economist and head of the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi, S. Akbar Zaidi observes that the voices of marginalised, oppressed, and underprivileged now have increasingly become mainstream.

It may be recalled that while in office, former US president Barack Obama said the duty of the voters does not end after casting their votes. In a functioning participatory democracy, politically and socially active masses can ensure their people’s rule through genuine representatives elected in a free and fair election.

Institutional reforms should be so designed that they serve the common good. Multiple modes of accountability are required to improve governance and public service delivery significantly. For example, the three tiers of government should be responsible to each other to end democracy-stifling over-centralisation.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, February 12th, 2024

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