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Economic manifestos: Pakistani political parties head to polls with focus on inflation, power bills, climate change

KARACHI: As Pakistan prepares to go to national elections in less than a week, prominent political parties have issued their manifestos glazed with ambitious blueprints of an economic turnaround, promising to address historic inflation, reduce power tariffs, and initiate reforms in energy and agriculture sectors.

Pakistan, a country of over 241 million people, is grappling with macroeconomic instability stemming from lower gross domestic product, energy shortfall, historic high inflation that continues to bite poor segments of society, weakening currency, low tax collection, and political instability.

Amid the mounting economic challenges, the South Asian nation is scheduled to hold elections on Feb. 8 to elect a new government for a period of five years. With electioneering gaining pace with every passing day, political parties have been recalling their past initiatives and promising a better future at charged public gatherings.

Inflation, electricity bills, exports

In its election manifesto, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, widely regarded as a frontrunner in the elections following the return of its leader Nawaz Sharif from self-exile in London, has promised to bring down inflation from a staggering 29.7 percent in December to a single-digit level.

“By the end of the year 2025, inflation will be in the single-digit, and over the following four years it will be controlled,” the PML-N manifesto reads.

The party has pledged to increase the economic growth rate to 4 percent by the end of 2025, 5 percent by 2026, and over 6 percent growth in the following years consistently.

“A buoyant economy with a higher GDP growth will help absorb new entrants into the workforce, creating over 10 million jobs in the next five years,” the manifesto reads.

Pakistan’s central bank and the International Monetary Fund have projected the South Asian economy to grow by up to 3 percent during the current financial year (July 2023 till June 2024).

Once in power, Sharif’s party claims, it will reduce electricity bills by as much as 30 percent through tariff rationalization, reduced generation costs, eradication of circular debt, and enhanced infrastructure.

The promises come amid a declining tax-to-GDP ratio that stood at 8.5 percent in 2022-23, according to Finance Minister Dr. Shamshad Akhtar, who shared on Tuesday a plan to restructure the country’s tax-collecting agency.

Akthar believes the new structure and measures to broaden the tax base as well as integration of data enhancement and technology would lift the tax-to-GDP ratio to 18 percent by 2029.

However, the PML-N has promised to increase the tax-to-GDP ratio to 13.5 percent by the end of year 2029.

Sharif’s party aims to increase exports to more than $58 billion in the next five years by adopting the right policies and to take remittance inflows to more than $40 billion annually.

“We will try to fully implement the manifesto,” Sharif, who has thrice been the prime minister of Pakistan, promised at its launch late last month.

Climate resilience, energy transition, housing

The Pakistan People’s Party, led by former foreign minister and Bhutto scion Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, has focused on the climate crisis besides inflation, unemployment and poverty in its manifesto, titled, “People’s Charter of the Economy.”

The PPP manifesto states: “We need to completely reform Pakistan’s development priorities and focus on climate resilience, adaptation and energy transition.”

The party has pledged to double incomes for daily wage earners by increasing the minimum wage by 8 percent every year and has promised at least 3 million climate-resilient homes in the name of women heads of the household under its “Housing for the Poor” slogan.

“The poorest households will be given free electricity (for) up to 300 units through solar generation, and this will be funded through carbon credits,” the manifesto reads.

To finance the People’s Charter, the PPP has pledged to do away with 17 federal ministries, expecting the move to save more than Rs328 billion ($1.2 billion).

The PPP has promised to roll back over Rs1500 billion in subsidies available to the elite and to reallocate them to social protection and climate-resilient investments.

Private-sector investments

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, led by jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan, has identified low saving rates, debt-driven growth, fiscal unsustainability, reduced productivity and an unfavorable environment for private-sector investments as major issues facing Pakistan’s economy.

It prioritizes long-term economic development and growth driven by productivity gains, private investments, and individual initiatives, according to the party manifesto.

“We believe Pakistan’s major problem is development, so the key objective of our manifesto is to prefer long-term development goals rather than growth,” Muzzamil Aslam, a member of PTI’s economic team, told Arab News.

“The party will prefer productivity growth and export-led growth. We will discourage import-led growth and focus on labor-intensive sectors such as agriculture.”

Human capital, agriculture tax

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, a political party mainly present in Pakistan’s commercial hub of Karachi, believes the “economic condition of Pakistan is very severe.”

Dr. Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, the MQM-P chief, told Arab News: “Actually, the economic condition of Pakistan is very severe, but it’s not the crisis of the economy. It’s a crisis of the niyat (intention).”

The party aims to increase remittances to $100 billion by leveraging human capital mobility within the next five years, promising agriculture tax on income no less than Rs4.8 million and land reforms through constitutional amendments.

Vision 2050

The Jamaat-e-Islami religio-political party has prepared a long-term economic plan for Pakistan, known as Vision 2050.

“After coming into power, we will undertake land reforms and tax big landholders,” Hafiz Naeem-ur-Rehman, JI Karachi chief, told Arab News, pledging to reduce energy tariffs to support industrial growth.

“A concrete plan will be made to get rid of the loans of the World Bank, IMF and local banks,” the JI manifesto reads.

Concentration of wealth in ‘few hands’

The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, another religious party, has vowed to prevent the concentration of wealth in a “few hands,” eliminate interest-based trade, and modernize the country’s banking system.

The party has promised to fix the monthly salary of laborers at the equivalent of one tola (11.7 grams) of gold, which currently costs around Rs215,500.

The JUI, like other parties, also promised to slash the government’s unnecessary expenditures.

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