General elections, so near yet so far

ISLAMABAD   -   All the budget statistics suggest that the ruling Pakistan Dem­ocratic Movement (PDM) and the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) have made up their mind to hold general elections in the country any­time between October and No­vember this year.

Finance minister Ishaq Dar during his budget speech in the national assembly termed the bud­get as a “responsible budget” instead of an “elec­tion budget”. Speaking in the National Assembly while presenting Rs14.46 trillion budget for 2023-24 with no new taxes, the government apparently tried to win back public favour before the upcom­ing polls. The budget documents itself speak a lot about what the government wants to get out of it.

Massive 33 percent increase in development expenditures; up to 35 percent increase in the federal government salaries and pensions; tax incentives for agriculture, construction, infor­mation technology and industry and many oth­er incentives reflects that the government has entered into the election mode. With the loom­ing elections in mind, the coalition government didn’t even bother about the fiscal challenges while giving favours apparently targeting com­mon man and youth. According to the econom­ic experts, the government income would be insufficient to cover debt servicing expense af­ter paying provinces’ share. Even then, the gov­ernment announced Rs236 billion Public Sec­tor Development Programme for the next fiscal year which mostly reflects the needs of politi­cians instead of fiscal prudence and discipline. Out of the proposed funds, nearly half has been given to the newly-included over 300 devel­opment schemes, indicating the government’s election priorities.

The other initiatives include Prime Minister’s Laptop Scheme, Prime Minister’s Initiatives for Solar Tube Wells, Prime Minister’s Youth Pro­gramme for Small Loans, Pakistan Endowment Fund for Education, Prime Minister’s Initia­tives for Support of IT Start-ups & Venture Cap­ital, Prime Minister’s Initiatives for Women Em­powerment, Prime Minister’s Green Revolution, Prime Minister’s Youth Skill Development and Prime Minister’s Institute of Sports. All these initiatives clearly indicate that the budgetary al­locations were election-driven and appear to be aiming at the youth ahead of the next general elections. The government employees have not got such a huge increase at least in the last de­cade and even at a time when the country’s econ­omy was in a much better shape than today. All such steps, according to the political observers, suggest that the coalition government has per­haps made up its mind to go into the elections af­ter the present National Assembly completes its term in August this year, with the hope that by that time, the Imran-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-In­saf would have also been ‘fixed’.

Nonetheless, like many political observers, Na­deem Afzal Chan of the PPP is not ready to be­lieve Ishaq Dar despite the latter termed the al­locations not an “election budget”. He is still wary of the PDM’s ‘intent’ to hold elections with­in the constitutional timeframe once the nation­al assembly expires or is dissolved before time. 

Chan – whose father was picked up by the Pun­jab police following the May 9 events — believes that coalition partners did not want elections in the near future. He sees his advice to his party; the PPP to forge an alliance with the PTI the rea­son behind his father’s arrest.

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