Rising inflation has become the biggest threat to the government. Smelling blood, the opposition has launched a movement to oust the government in four months. The situation is becoming difficult to handle for Prime Minister Imran Khan, especially after lawmakers of his own party have started criticising the government over skyrocketing prices and unemployment.
The dissenting voices within the ruling party represent public sentiments. Elected representatives know they have no chance to win the next election if they fail to redress public grievances, which are increasing by the day in the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government. Rising prices and unemployment are serious problems of the people but the government is not serious about their solution. After the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the two issues have worsened. It is obvious that the government has no quick fix solution, yet people want a more serious effort from it to tackle the situation. The government should take practical measures to control inflation, which troubles the masses, instead of window dressing as it is running out of time.
People had voted the PTI to power in the last election on the promise of bringing about change in the country. Instead, they are facing the hardest time of their lives. The situation has forced lawmakers of even the ruling party to speak against the poor performance of their government. In a recent parliamentary meeting, Prime Minister Imran Khan was left red-faced when his own lawmakers and coalition partners savaged the government for rising food prices and increase in power and gas tariffs. They expressed their annoyance at the party leadership for policies, which have overburdened the common people and made their lives miserable.
The meeting, which Prime Minister Imran Khan had summoned to take the PTI parliamentary party and allies into confidence over the government’s strategy to counter the opposition’s movement, indicates growing concern among the legislators about their political future. As the meeting started, PTI MNA Sanaullah Khan Masti Khel hit out at the government’s policies, saying that he had become so dejected that he could not expect the situation to improve in the coming days. He pointed out that he had won as an independent candidate and later joined the ruling party. “People can’t even pay their gas and electricity bills,” he complained. He warned the ministers to get ready for “rotten eggs, tomatoes and worse” due to their poor performance. Another PTI MNA, Noor Alam Khan, informed Prime Minister Imran Khan that he was working with an incompetent economic team, which had failed to deliver. The Prime Minister pacified his legislators by saying that the present government was not responsible for the crises in the country and it was the opposition that had left the country in ruins.
Undoubtedly, the PTI lawmakers’ severe criticism of the government’s performance is justified. The government claims to have put the economy on the right path, but its benefits have not started reaching the common man yet. In a report, the Asian Development Bank feared that between 1.5 million and 2.3 million young Pakistanis had lost jobs during the pandemic. The country’s unemployment rate that stood at 8.9pc in 2019 is likely to hover between 17.3 and 21.5pc in the current year.
The warning by the legislators should serve as an eye opener to the Prime Minister and his team, especially economic managers. The elected representatives are getting panicked because they know they have little chance of re-election in the next polls if the government fails to improve the situation. On the other hand, the government claims to have improved all economic indicators. It cites a contraction of the current account deficit, projection of 1.5pc growth rate, resurgence of large scale manufacturing, stable exchange rate, positive signs of foreign direct investment and the foreign exchange reserves at a comfortable 20 billion dollars as its achievements. These could be a remarkable success of the government, but they have not benefited the common people anyway. They are facing the worst inflation and unemployment in Pakistan’s history. It is because of bad performance of the government that prices of edibles and essentials continue to skyrocket despite the fact that electricity and gas tariffs have not risen for some time, while the rupee is also stable against the dollar.
The government should stop blaming past governments for the crises facing the country. It has completed over two years in office now. People and even its own legislators are not willing to accept its lame excuses. Prices increase on a daily basis and the government has left people at the mercy of hoarders and profiteers. Checking prices is the job of provincial governments but they are helpless before federal government policies. High tariffs of electricity, gas and a weak rupee against the dollar are major causes of inflation in the country. Crops in the Punjab and Sindh have been destroyed due to heavy rains, pest attacks and locust invasions. The result is that Pakistan is importing wheat and sugar to control soaring prices.
The government is under huge pressure to bring down prices of essential goods. It will have to spend huge money to import cotton, wheat and sugar this year to support the textile sector, which is the biggest employer and foreign exchange earner of the country, and control prices of essential food items. It will put an additional burden on the much-needed dollar reserves in the country that recently avoided a balance-of-payments crisis. If the dollar rate increases, it will add to inflation and foreign debt.
On the other hand, the PTI lawmakers’ concerns reflect genuine public grievances. People can wait for jobs but they no longer can wait for relief from high prices. The government will have to act now or the opposition will exploit the situation.