Elections, hardly

February 5, 2023

There is a need to find answers to pending problems. Will elections change the dynamics?

Elections, hardly


was among the Pakistanis deprived of their dollar deposits when the country tested nuclear devices in 1998. I swallowed the bitter pill like many others and never opened a foreign currency account in Pakistan again.

We are at a similar crossroads once again. Most Pakistanis are on the edge. The only section of the society that seems to be enjoying the helplessness of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government is some supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).

Political stability is a requisite for economic wellbeing, but at the moment there is a greater need in Pakistan for economic wisdom than political gimmickry. This is likely to hold true for quite some time, at least a decade.

In its last year, the PTI government appeared to have been making some belated progress towards a recovery. It was brought down before it could achieve that. However, the PTI government alone must bear the blame for violating the terms of its agreement with the International Monetary Fund, apparently for political gain.

Most experts agree today that the arrival of the IMF mission in Islamabad is the only glimmer of hope for the country to avoid default on foreign exchange payments.

The low foreign exchange reserves and rising prices notwithstanding, we are still keen on partisan politics. Our politicians are not ready to support the difficult decisions like raising the fuel prices, ending subsidies and privatising loss making state enterprises. These are urgent matters but no party appears prepared to bear their burden.

Instead of finding practical answers to these problems, we are focused on whether we will have general elections sooner or later this year. Will the exercise change anything for good in Pakistan as far as the economic hardship is concerned? Let me make this clear: I support elections being held in accordance with the constitution.

Going by Imran Khan’s narrative, the PTI will win and they have the will and the skill to turn the economy around. Sounds good, but we all know better.

One of their economic aces, Asad Umar, says they did well last time and are well prepared to do much better this time.

Political stability is definitely an essential dynamic, but every day that we lose by not making unanimous economic decisions, we pay a hefty price.

The PTI government wasted nine months before going to the IMF in its early days; the current government has wasted four. The ordinary citizen is paying for it.

Can we afford any more delays and three months of expensive electioneering, mindless discussions and heated debates?

The PTI tells us a grand alliance of political forces is possible only after the general elections. Will the conditions they set be acceptable to others? Will the PDM, beaten back to the opposition benches, be ready to cooperate? Will it support Imran Khan, at least on economy? Hardly likely.

Pakistan’s current account deficit of around $10 billion and principal repayments on its external debt of around $24 billion make a gloomy economic reading. Policy short-sightedness makes it worse.

Elections, hardly

The Shahbaz Sharif administration has not hinted at early general elections. They absolutely can’t take the gamble now with sky-rocketing prices of daily commodities and Imran Khan’s popularity. The wait-and-see policy, they feel, might work better for them.

Successive governments over several decades have opted for short-term solutions. Even now, the PDM coalition is busy fire-fighting under extreme IMF pressure.

Through his constant verbal onslaught, Imran Khan has made the PDM leaders suspect in the majority’s eyes. It does not matter to his supporters that there have been no convictions on corruption charges during his four-year tenure. This is not making PM Shahbaz Sharif’s job any easier. The pressure of imminent elections is preventing him from taking the hard decisions the country needs.

We have recently seen a Rs 35 per litre hike in petrol prices. Will this generate enough revenue for the government?

Even a layman can now see where the problem lies. Our political leaders keep accusing one another of procrastinating. What both sides, ironically, agree upon is keeping the political circus going.

There have been calls for uniting the political forces at least on a charter of economy, but sadly no willingness. It is clear that the PDM and the PTI will not be sitting together any time soon to resolve the economic challenges.

There is a move already on the sidelines to create a new party. Some seminars have been held in major cities across the country to call for attention to important issues and reforms. Will this be acceptable to the establishment? The people prominent at these seminars have denied plans for creating a new party and insisted that their only aim is to build a consensus for much-needed reforms.

The unhappy political clout may or may not become a party, but it has raised some very valid questions. The media has been more focused, however, on who they are than what they are saying.

An avid political pundit, Amir Rana, in a recent article eloquently said it all: “There’s no doubt Pakistan needs radical reforms to get out of the mushrooming economic and political crises. However, the biggest challenge is the existing power structure, which doesn’t want to undergo a complete overhaul. It keeps readjusting itself to changes of ‘little consequence’, and is thus able to maintain the status quo.”

The Shahbaz Sharif administration has not hinted at early general elections. They cannot take the gamble with sky-rocketing prices and Imran Khan’s popularity. The wait-and-see policy, they feel, might work better for them.

The strategy seems to be to find a way to delay elections for the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkwa provincial assemblies and the recently vacated seats in the National Assembly. The idea is to get all this done in one go. If push comes to shove, the provincial governments in the two provinces may be suspended for three months. Imran Khan has already announced plans to contest all NA by-elections. This makes the whole exercise a total waste.

This is going to be the first time two provinces would be electing their assemblies ahead of the general elections. This creates an anomalous situation. Also, polling during the month of Ramazan could lower the turnout. In the recent Sindh local government elections, this favoured the PPP.

Our politicians need to show maturity; they need to be seen making decisions that serve the national interest.

The writer, a journalist for 33 years, has been an editor at the BBC in Pakistan for over two decades. Currently, he is the Managing Editor at Independent Urdu

Elections, hardly