As general elections are coming closer, the political temperature is rising in the country with government and opposition intensifying their battle over a variety of issues ranging from dissolution of national and provincial assemblies to the appointment of caretaker setup. But they seem to be raising stakes on key economic issues too in the heat of rising political tensions.
A war of words has erupted between the government and opposition for the presentation of budget for the financial year 2018-19.
As government’s term in office expires in late May, it has decided to announce the national budget a few weeks earlier. The opposition, however, objects to the move and says the government has no mandate to announce budget for the full financial year with just few weeks left for it to stay in office.
Opposition leader in the National Assembly, Khursheed Shah has demanded the government in his meeting with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to announce the budget for just 45 days when the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) would be in office.
To increase pressure on the federal government, the Tehreek-e-Insaaf chief Imran Khan has asked Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak not to announce provincial budget for the next financial year.
Opposition leaders maintain that the government should leave it to the next elected government to take key economic decisions.
The government however, has rejected the opposition calls and says it has the mandate to take such decisions and is adamant to announce the budget for the full fiscal year.
Budget is not the only issue that has become a bone of contention between the government and opposition these days.
Minister for Privatisation Daniyal Aziz a few weeks back made a surprising announcement that the government would privatise the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) before the end of its tenure, triggering a new controversy.
The privatisation of state-run entities has already become a very explosive issue over the past several years and
two people were killed during protests when the government tried to privatise the national carrier a couple of years back. Rekindling an old controversy at a time of high political polarisation is nothing but an attempt to further muddy the waters.
It is heartening to see that the attorney general told the Supreme Court that the PML-N government has no plans to privatise PIA in its current tenure.
The announcement of the tax amnesty scheme by the government at the far end of its tenure is another example of an attempt to make political gains by trivialising a major policy issue.
Legally, the move might be tenable but the government has very weak moral justification to take a major decision just few weeks before it leaves the office.
The economic fundamentals of Pakistan are very weak and it can hardly afford its leaders to fight their political battles on vital economic issues.
Former finance minister Ishaq Dar while in office had made calls for evolving of a charter of economy on the pattern of charter of democracy through which the political parties should pledge that they would not politicise the economic issues for petty gains.
Historically, Pakistan missed many chances to put its economy on sound footing and on many occasions lost hard won economic gains for petty political interests of its leaders.
Currently Pakistan’s economy is passing through a very critical time as it faces major challenges like the daunting current account deficit, stubborn energy crisis, depleting foreign exchange reserves and low exports.
All these challenges could be confronted with strong economic reforms whose success could only be ensured through political stability in the country.
A decade or so when Pakistan was on the upward economic trajectory, it lost economic gains in a matter of a month because of political stability.
Despite unending fears of political uncertainty, general elections will be held on time and there are high hopes that the country would see a smooth transition of power from one political government to another for the second time in its 70 years of chequered history.
It is the responsibility of the entire political leadership of Pakistan as well as all stakeholders to ensure that transition of power should ultimately lead to political stability in the country that should serve as a harbinger of economic progress.
With elections just a few months away, the political parties should concentrate their energies on preparing their manifestos. These manifestos should lay down in no uncertain terms what the political party would do and they should spell out their strategy on how they would deal with the economic challenges faced by Pakistan if they came into power.
Instead of wasting their time in fist fights over the past, they should focus their attention on the future.
In view of the fast depleting foreign exchange reserves and rising current account deficit, Pakistan in all likelihood would face a balance of payment crisis later this year. But so far none of the political parties has come up with any strategy as to how it would deal with the situation if it comes into power.
Democracy is not just winning of elections and forming of the government. It is also a battle of ideas where political parties should explore innovative ways to deal with the challenges faced by the country.
The media has also a major role in bringing about a quality change in the national narrative, where political parties instead of indulging just in political point-scoring should go through a substantial thought process to find solutions to the many problems faced by their electorate.
So far, neither media nor political parties have shown any inclination for any such debate. One hopes that when the election campaign formally gets underway they would move away from trivial issues and focus their attention on real issues faced by the country and its people.
The Pakistani political leaders must rise to the occasion. Lest they would face the ignominy of being blamed as incompetent for failing to revolutionise the lot of the teeming masses.
Prime Minister of Pakistan Shahid Khaqan Abbasi