This article was published in Development Advocate Pakistan | Volume 10 / Issue 2 / August 2023 on Aug 14, 2023, at the following link
The current National Assembly is set to complete its five-year Tterm on the 12th ofAugust, with the General Election to the National and four Provincial Assemblies scheduled to take place two months after the assembly completes its term. The election date may be extended by anothermonth ifthe assembly is dissolved even a day before the scheduled completion of term. In any case, whetherthe election takes place in October orNovember this year, the election season is already upon us, and, although the political narrative is currently dominated by the after-shocks ofthe events of 9th May, political parties will soon start unveiling their election manifestos. The three largest political parties of Pakistan – PTI, PML-N, and PPP – unveiled their election manifestos just 16, 20, and 27 days ahead of the polling day in the 2018 General Election. PTI may, however, be credited with producing a document called ‘Imran Khan’s first 100 Days’ Agenda’ a little overtwo months before Polling Day. Although one political party, Jamat-e-Islami, has already unveiled its election manifesto in anticipation of provincial assembly elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, most parties are expected to follow the same pattern of announcing theirmanifestos as theydid in 2018. Political parties’ election manifestos in Pakistan suffer from four key weaknesses. The first is the non-inclusive process of preparing the election manifesto. Hardly any political party in Pakistan involves its grassroots organizations and workers in identifying the key policy issues which need to be addressed, and in which manner, in their election manifestos. Mainstream British political parties, the Conservatives, and the Labour Party have established systems of holding policy forums at various levels starting from the grassroots right up to the National Forum and finally seeking endorsements at their annual partymeetings. The Conservative Policy Forum website indicates that at least half the election manifesto consists of recommendations made bypolicy forums at various levels. In Pakistan, political parties with very few exceptions constitute a committee consisting of 20 to 50 persons about 2 to 3 months before Polling Day. This committee, after deliberations among themselves and with limited consultation outside of itself, comes out with a draft manifesto which the senior leadership approves with or without modifications. The process indicates that the election manifesto is a mere formality rather than the result of a properstructured system ofconsultations at various levels. The second weakness of the election manifesto process is that it is usually based on whims and not proper research. Although there is increasing tendency in political parties to commission and use public opinion polls, the general focus ofsuch an effort is on gauging the popularity of various leaders rather than the identification of issues. The use of public opinion polls based on a carefully crafted questionnaire can significantly enhance the quality of the election manifesto. In-depth research should feed into the solutions proposed in the manifestos. Instead of identifying issues and proposing theirsolutions from the perspective ofthe party, political parties tend to craft catchy slogans because the general public responds much better to slogans than robust analysis and wellconsidered policy positions. ‘Roti, kapra, aurmakan’ (bread, clothing, and shelter) proved to be a very popular slogan for PPP in the 1970 General Election. ‘Nizam-e-Mustafa’ (System of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) or an Islamic System) helped IJI to gain popularity in the 1977 Election. The slogan of ‘Tabdeeli’ or change proved successful for PTI in 2018. As long as people do not demand well considered solutions to the problems faced by them and allow themselves to be swayed by mere slogans, the parties are not likely to devote serious attention to the formulation of an election manifesto. Political or civic education amongst the electorate is, therefore, also needed. Almost all election manifestos in Pakistan are mere wish-lists without any serious back-end working on how the resources will either be mobilized or diverted from other programmes to implement the programmes promised in the manifesto. For a resource-constrained country like Pakistan, trade-offs are a natural phenomenon while undertaking serious planning on policies and programmes. The election manifestoes should, therefore, present the party’s proposed trade-offs and funding ideas. The British Labour Party’s election manifestos of 2017 and 2019 could serve as good models as these carried separate detailed documents explaining how each promised programme would be funded. The LabourManifesto in 2017 was named ‘Forthe many, not the few’, and its accompanying 7-page document had the title
Funding Britain’s Future’. The 2019 LabourManifesto carried an even more detailed 40-page document with the title ‘Funding the Real Change’. Both these funding documents were produced by a team headed by the ShadowChancellorofthe Exchequer, equivalent to a Shadow Minister of Finance in our parlance, ifwe had the system of ShadowCabinets in ourOpposition. Anothermajorweakness relates to the lack of attention to the status of implementation of the election manifesto by a party once it comes to power. It seems that parties almost forget about their manifestos after coming into power. A system of regular monitoring of the status of implementation by the party in power will not only help the party and its government to improve the extent of implementation, but will enhance public trust in the party and its government. PTI, after coming into power in 2018, tried to monitor the status of implementation of Imran Khan’s first 100 Days Agenda and shared the results online, but the party abandoned the commendable initiative even before the expiry ofthe first 100 days in the government. The partydid not make any effort to monitorthe implementation of its election manifesto. Political parties in the opposition, as well as civil society organisations, should also undertake serious monitoring of the implementation of the manifestos ofparties in power. Pakistan is a federal state and a lot of ministries and divisions have been devolved to the provinces. A party may not be in power both at the centre and in all the four provinces at the same time. The parties should prepare separate manifestos for the federation and each province. Jamat-e-Islami has recently unveiled a separate election manifesto specifically for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Otherparties may also considerdoing the same. Usually, ‘development’ is a major part of the election manifestos of Pakistani political parties, and it makes sense because ‘development’ has consistentlybeen the numberone reason why a votervotes for a political party or a candidate, as discovered through the exit polls conducted by Gallup Pakistan in the past eight General Elections. For example, 30 percent (the highest number) of respondents identified ‘development’ as the reason why they voted for a party or a candidate in the 2018 election. It is important that both the parties and the voters define ‘development’ not just as bricks and mortar but rather encompassing a wider scope, including quality education, safe drinking water, robust health systems, equity, and more. Enhancing election manifestos requires a multifaceted approach that includes incorporating grassroots insights, adopting transparency and specificity, and undertaking robust research to suggest evidence-based policies. This can empower voters, strengthen democratic processes, and hold political parties accountable to their promises.