Elections only pathway to break policy-making paralysis – 05 Mar 2023

Policy-making paralysis impacts people in the form of inflation and spiralling economic uncertainty

As a child growing up in Karachi, I remember my parents sharing a story about when Gen Zia seized power in the country. Zia promised he would only remain in power till he was able to hold elections within 90 days. And those 90 days kept getting pushed back for one reason or another. Zia was then rightly demonised as a dictator by political parties in the country, particularly the PPP and the PML-N. In an ironic twist of fate, these political parties are in power today and even though elections are constitutionally mandated within 90 days of the dissolution of the Punjab and KP assemblies, the powers-that-be have found one way or another to drag their feet on holding the elections. Now the Supreme Court is cleaning up their mess.

This is no surprise. The PDM government’s signature policy-making move has been paralysis. Like a deer caught in headlights, they’ve had no answers or political will to deal with Pakistan’s poly-crisis until they absolutely don’t have a choice not to act. The economy is tanking, terrorists are knocking on our door steps and political polarisation is at an all-time high. And instead of leadership or decision-making, we’ve seen consultative tours to London and Pindi by the Prime Minister.

An interesting example of that is our negotiations with the IMF. First, the government threw out a finance minister (Miftah Ismail), who was trying to take responsible actions to keep our discussions with them on track. Then the Prime Minister brought a Finance Minister (Ishaq Dar) from within his family onboard who decided to play hard ball with the IMF and reversed all the hard work of Ismail. Essentially, Dar bet on support from friendly countries and aggravated our current account deficit by trying to artificially overvalue the currency. When the IMF didn’t blink and we were teetering on the edge of default, Dar finally folded.

Now in the final stages of IMF negotiations, Dar is leaking to press ideas about how IMF is shifting goalposts and making strange demands that infringe on Pakistan’s sovereignty. This feels like a political strategy to again avoid elections. Essentially, the boys need an IMF deal for their party to continue. And the PDM needs the boys to delay elections for their party to continue. And while they both continue to party, the cost for policy-making paralysis is paid for by the people in the form of inflation and spiralling economic uncertainty.

The Prime Minister and the Finance Minister don’t want to sign a deal with the IMF because they don’t want to become unpopular before the elections but they also don’t want to call an election so a new government can come in and make unpopular decisions. What they don’t realise or perhaps they do is that not making a decision is also a decision. It’s a decision to throw Pakistan into an obnoxious cycle of economic and political paralysis. You can’t fight so hard to overthrow a government in the middle of their five-year term only to take over and decide that you’re not going to make any decisions or let elections happen within the constitutionally mandated timelines.

The only plausible opening to break this logjam wide open is holding an election. Let the will of the people be heard so that we can finally break this policy-making paralysis and move on with our lives and kickstart our economy. The only thing worse than bad decisions — something PDM’s political parties used to blame PTI’s government for — is making no decisions at all. Forget challenging the status quo, PDM’s government can’t even make any decisions unless it’s to maintain the status quo. This is an appalling state of affairs and the primary reason why Imran Khan keeps winning by-elections. We can no longer hold an economy and electorate hostage to the fear of leaders in power. They’re certainly not going to win the elections this year but if they don’t agree to elections soon and keep up their policy-making paralysis, they may never win an election again.

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