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The manifesto mantra

April 14, 2013

PPP seems to be the most receptive to the needs and demands of the rural stakeholders. -File photo

KARACHI: Except for a miniscule minority of educated urban elite, the majority in Pakistan will probably cast their vote in Election 2013, if at all they do, on the basis of old loyalties to their clan, baradri, caste, faith or creed.

The ideological confusion and the growing wedge between the government and the masses have apparently contributed to the trend. Dismissing the government as an undependable agency to provide them with social and physical utilities or a sense of security, people are turning back to their baseline support structures in search of not just protection, but also identity.

The cynics in the country are watching in disbelief as democracy takes roots and Pakistan moves steadily towards the first ever democratic transition from one elected government to the next.

The transition, though, does not involve on the part of the people a clear perception of what is good or bad. It used to be easier for them to decide on the basis of the candidates’ attitude towards dictatorships.

The masses, as opposed to the elite, clearly demonstrated their preference time and again for democracy by voting against anti-democratic elements in previous elections.

They, however, probably lack tact to pick among political parties of proven democratic credentials. This could partially explain the lack of electrifying enthusiasm seen during previous elections that often signified a return to democracy after one subversion or the other of the process by the powers that be.

The survey carried out by the Dawn team for this report also projected disillusionment of many vocal and visible urban segments with the democratic experience under the PPP-led coalition government that, they felt, delivered much less than the most minimum of their expectations. They cited sluggish growth, rise in corruption and falling standard of governance in support of their skepticism.

Having said that, the fact is that as the election campaign picks up pace, the charisma of leaders aspiring for the hot seat in Islamabad might influence the choice of voters to some extent. However, the chances of the economic roadmap announced by the competing parties to shape the outcome of the elections are slim. Besides, the political parties, in a bid to outperform others, made their manifestoes too voluminous for even the interested to read through and digest.

It is, therefore, difficult even for students of politics to distinguish parties on the basis of their programmes as they all have spoken on every issue of concern to the people and the economy at length and promised to resolve them if voted to power.

Still, even a quick reading of the manifestoes of the three leading entities — the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) — depicts variation in the thrust of their respective election programmes. The order of priority seems to have been decided on the basis of the perceived constituency in the case of each of the three parties.

The PML-N has accommodated 84 per cent of its demands in the manifesto as opposed to 44 per cent by the PPP and 66 per cent by the PTI.
In keeping with the international trend, the confidence of Pakistani political parties on free market to deliver development independent of the government seems to have shaken. No one has cited deregulation, denationalisation and liberalisation the way they did earlier as panacea for all economic troubles. See the table of first five points on the manifestoes of respective parties.

With more populist overtones, the PPP seems to be focused on re-distribution of wealth, while the PMLN is targeting its creation. The PTI has placed security and sovereignty before the creation or the distribution of wealth in the country.

Eyeing rural constituency, the PPP seems to be the most receptive to the needs and demands of the rural stakeholders. Responding to anxiety in the rural sector over open trade with India where agriculture is a lot more subsidized, the party has promised to provide subsidies deep enough to enable the Pakistani farming community to have a fair deal while competing with India in commodity trade.

It does, however, mention agriculture income tax in its manifesto this time round.

To capitalise on the popularity of the party among the poorer classes, the PPP has promised more direct subsidies for the working masses than the other segments. It seems to have dropped the subject of privatisation, dreaded at least for the time being by the labour class and employees of state-owned enterprises, and has stopped at restructuring for improving efficiency. There are numerous ‘Peoples’ schemes marked in its manifesto that target youth and others.

Counting on their image as a business-friendly party, the PMLN has treated issues related to economy with a higher sense of urgency. It has pledged to revive the privatisation programme on the fast track and has promised to address the irritants in an attempt to restore the confidence of investors. The manifesto stands out as comparatively far superior to others in its provisions to deal with immediate and long-term issues of the ailing economy.

The fact is acknowledged by the Pakistan Business Council, an advocacy group of the corporate sector. In a report, ‘Position of major political parties on National Economic Agenda’, released last month, the group articulated interest of the corporate sector and circulated it among the political parties for endorsement.

According to the report, the PML-N has accommodated 84 per cent of its demands in the manifesto as opposed to 44 per cent by the PPP and 66 per cent by the PTI.

“The big business that benefited disproportionately in return for unwavering support to dictators in the country was ahead of the rest (all other segments and sectors) in adapting to the changing times. They evolved their own charter of demand and started advocacy for their agenda when political parties needed moral and material support during the election campaign,” commented an analyst in Karachi.

The PTI, projecting itself as a symbol of ‘change’, seems to be the most conservative of all the three leading parties in its essence. Its intelligently crafted programme targets champions of the so-called ‘ideology of Pakistan’ and urbanites hoping for the best of both worlds in every sense of the word.

“Not only the party participates in the activities of the ‘Defence of Pakistan Council’, but it patronises pop culture to cater to those who are modern socially but highly conservative ideologically. Believe me, there are more such people in Pakistan today than at any point in the history of the country. People have sensed that he means business. What they might have misunderstood is the direction he wants to lead the country to,” commented an independent political pundit.

The party caters to the populist anti-Americanism wave more than the others, wrapping it up with the ‘sovereignty’ tag. The PTI manifesto has great appeal for the disgruntled segments of leading parties and the elements who have been pushed to the sidelines for their past association with the politics of status quo.

There is variation in flavour and the level of general involvement based on region as well. As expected, Punjab is ahead of all other provinces in terms of people’s involvement. It is also because there is close contest in maximum number of provincial and national seats. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa could have been second to Punjab but for the law and order situation there.

In Sindh, the clear rural-urban divide, with the first being a PPP stronghold, and the second in comfortable grip of the MQM, means the results are almost out even before the first vote has been cast. Balochistan, with its own set of problems, seems to be struggling to decide a future for itself.

“For the economically distressed multitude haunted by perpetual fear and angry over mis-governance of the last elected government, elections are more of a ritual that throw up different faces of the same elite ready to forget all pledges made in manifestoes the day they enter the power corridor to pursue their private interests and those of their own class leaving ordinary voters high and dry,” a social activist said, echoing the sentiments of a massive, if silent, majority.