FeaturedNationalVolume 14 Issue # 16

Between the survey lines

Strong approval rating for the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government in a survey of Pakistanis by an international firm is an encouraging sign for Prime Minister Imran Khan. However, critics say it only represents hopes of the people from a new government, instead of its performance in its first 100 days.

According to the nationwide poll of Pakistanis by the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) Centre for Insights in Survey Research, 57 per cent of respondents think that Prime Minister Imran Khan is doing either a “very good job” (17pc) or a “good job” (40pc) so far, and a combined 56pc approve of the government. A plurality of respondents (40pc) say that they are willing to give the government one year (26pc) or two years (14pc) to start delivering on their campaign promises. In the survey, inflation was singled out as the most important problem in Pakistan (39pc), followed by poverty (18pc) and unemployment (15pc). Nearly 77pc of respondents between the ages of 18 and 35 saw the lack of jobs as the biggest challenge facing young people in Pakistan. The poll also indicates high levels of confidence in the results of the July 2018 general election. A clear majority (84pc) say that the results were either “very accurate” (46pc) or “somewhat accurate” (38pc). A combined 83pc believe that the election was either “completely free and fair” (50pc) or “mostly free and fair” (33pc).

The survey data was collected between Nov 1 and 22, 2018, through in-home, in-person interviews. The sample consisted of 3,991 respondents aged 18 and older and was representative of voting-age adults nationally. The margin of error was 1.6pc. Commenting on the report, Johanna Kao, IRI regional director for Asia, said “The survey suggests that the government’s performance will be judged primarily on its ability to address pressing economic concerns. Poor economic conditions are a significant source of anxiety for Pakistanis. Despite Pakistan’s economic challenges, confidence in the new government and the prime minister is high. Pakistanis seem to be willing to give the government time to deliver on its campaign promises, which will require difficult economic reforms to revitalise the country’s struggling economy.”

However, the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has rejected the findings and questioned the timing of the release of the report. In a statement, PPP Secretary-General Nayyar Bokhari said the survey report was released at a time when the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) was “fast losing” its credibility among the public. “It is a complete negation of the prevailing economic conditions and poor governance in the country,” he added. Contrary to the opposition’s claim that the July 2018 elections were engineered and manipulated, the poll indicates high levels of confidence in the results.

Critics say the survey conducted in the past is an effort to cover up bad policies of the government. They say there had been an enormous increase in the number of people living below the poverty line after the government came to power. The conditions in the country have changed drastically since November 2018, when the survey was conducted, as there had been phenomenal increase in prices of commodities and the country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) have come down to three per cent in the last six months. Similarly, inflation is touching the mark of 8.5 per cent, the highest in the last four years.

However, the government claims the survey results indicate people’s trust in it. In a Tweet, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Hussain said the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N were not even close to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s perception (among the masses).

Analysts say the IRI, though it claims to be non-partisan, yet it has a political bias. It was extremely controversial during Arab spring, especially in Egypt. It is also not IRI’s first survey in Pakistan. Since 2002, it has released various survey reports on the country. In the 2013 elections, it said PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif was the most popular leader and predicted his win. Following the survey report, the PTI had hit back and called it a “paid survey.” The roles this time have reversed. PTI social media activists are jubilant over the outcome of the survey. The IRI also released a survey in 2017, in which PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif had 63 percent popularity while Imran Khan received 39 percent appreciation. Few months later, Nawaz lost the election.

The survey was conducted when the government had not completed its 100 days in office. Its performance in the first seven months has not been satisfactory. Thousands of people have lost their jobs while it had promised to create 10 new vacancies and build 5m houses. Prices of all daily-use items have skyrocketed. Power and gas tariff hikes have compounded the suffering of the common man. Even staunch supporters of the PTI find it hard to defend it. It has taken decisions which have badly hurt the people of Pakistan. PTI’s supports claim Prime Minister Imran Khan’s popularity has increased after Pakistan shot down two Indian fighters and captured a pilot, which was later released as a good-well gesture for peace.

In a country, like Pakistan, the situation can change in few months. The findings of the survey may be correct. The government has completed seven months. It should start delivering, instead of relying on the survey report. The ruling party has not even set the direction for a new Pakistan, according to its manifesto. Hospitals and education institutions remain the same. The government will have to change its policies immediately and start working for the poor, otherwise the opposition can exploit the situation.