Probably all political parties have entered the election phase and there are strong indications that all of them would enter the next general elections, whenever they are held, with different agenda and manifestos. The next elections are going to be most important for the incumbent Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) as they could turn out to be the make or break elections for the party and its nearly four decades of existence. Presently, the head of the PML-N government Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif is facing very strong allegations of illegal money transfers from Pakistan and owning expensive property in England but without a legitimate or legal money trail. The petition against PM Sharif has been submitted in the apex court of Pakistan by the main opposition party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). This may lead to disqualification of PM Sharif. In case he is let off by the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP), with the allegations, containing convincing substance, of buying property with ill-gotten wealth, the image of the party and its head will have been severely compromised by the charges. This would cost the PML-N and the ruling family of Pakistan dearly in the next elections. Apart from the allegations, the development agenda of the PML-N for which the party arguably got the mandate in the May 2013 national elections would also figure prominently in the next general elections.
The electorate in Pakistan may not be as aware and erudite as they are in a Western democracy, but they are not as naïve today as they once were. The revolution and prevalence of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in every corner of Pakistan has gone a long way in increasing the awareness levels of Pakistanis regarding political and social issues, and the role of the government and the rulers. Thus, the development agenda which the PML-N government at the federal and at the provincial level in the largest province, the Punjab, pursued since getting power in the 2013 general elections would definitely have a huge bearing on the atmospherics and the results of the next general elections.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has completed three-and-a-half years of its five-year constitutional tenure but notwithstanding the government claims, the process of development has not moved forward satisfactory under the incumbent dispensation. Here it is important to explain what development really means and what could be the objective explanation of the reality known to all of us as development. The concept of development is all-encompassing and includes all aspects of national life, but mostly it is gauged in terms of economic progress a country may have made during a stipulated time span.
The ultimate aim of development, is the uplift in different fields of life of a community. It is to improve the standard of life of the majority of people. In this context, the performance of any government, including the incumbent government of the PML-N can be objectively analyzed.
Regarding the economic development of a country its most important aspect is the rate at which a country’s economy grows or its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increases. Apart from that, other important benchmarks for economic development are: the amount of foreign and domestic investment both portfolio and direct investment especially Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the country, increase in per capita income, the scale of foreign exchange reserves, level of exports and imports, rates of poverty and unemployment and amount of remittances a state receives. The performance of the PML-N government in all the above-mentioned aspects of economic development, if one may use the kindest words, has not been impressive. The GDP growth has been less than 4 percent irrespective of government claims that it has been around 4.7 percent for the financial year 2015-2016. The amount of both domestic and foreign investment leaves a lot to be desired. During July-April of Financial Year 2015-16, net foreign direct investment was merely $ 1 billion. There has been significant decrease in Pakistan’s exports, while surprisingly there has been noticeable increase in imports and thereby the adverse trade gap. In financial year 2015-16, the total worth of Pakistani exports was $20.802 billion which was three billion less than the preceding financial year, whereas in the same period, that is 2015-16, the total imports of the country amounted to more than $40 billion.
During the incumbent government of the PML-N, the level of poverty and unemployment in the country has also registered an increase. The Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has been claiming the highest levels of foreign exchange reserves of around $23.58 billion. But even this claim is highly questionable as the foreign exchange reserves include the foreign loans contracted by the PML-N government. In the same vein it might be mentioned that another very important area of economic underdevelopment of a country is the amount of foreign and domestic debts a country has accumulated over time. During the rule of the present PML-N government there has been unprecedented increase in the debt burden of the country. According to the Debt Office at the Ministry of Finance, the PML-N government has obtained $25 billion as fresh foreign loans in addition to borrowing Rs3.1 trillion ($30 billion) from the domestic market for budget financing.
The above-mentioned facts and figures show that the PML-N government has largely failed in putting the country on the path of real progress. There have been several factors responsible for this. The foremost factor has been the lack of vision to give a desirable direction and to energize the process of development. This egregious ineptitude together with the malign effects of an untrammeled corruption are devastating the state. Then there has been the issue of misplaced priorities. For instance, when the country has been in need of social and economic development, PM Sharif’s government has been concentrating on developing infrastructure in its political forte, the Punjab, particularly its capital and largest electoral constituency of the Sharif family―Lahore. While investing in development of infrastructure like roads and railways is not at all a bad economic strategy, but even here the PML-N government has been focusing more on improving the urban transportation infrastructure by constructing mass transit schemes like metro buses and orange lines than overall improvement of infrastructure in the country. Projects like metros and orange lines do not have any worthwhile contribution in economic development as these are used by the intra city commuters mostly those who are already employed or have businesses to reach their destinations. Thus, metros and orange lines may facilitate people in moving to and fro, but do not have any role in economic development per se.
If development is the biggest yardstick of the performance of a government then the PML-N government has largely been unable to put the country on the path of development let alone achieving any great milestones in this respect in the last three-and-a-half years. The PML-N needs to concentrate on facilitating the construction of various projects under the CPEC and ensure its equitable distribution among provinces and regions, if it wants to have a realistic chance of winning a sizable number of seats in parliament in the next general elections.