- The upcoming general elections on 8 February 2024 in Pakistan will witness 127 million electorates (including 21 million new voters) voting for 17,800 candidates running for 266 National Assembly and 593 Provincial Assembly seats.
- The commentary seeks to analyse the manifestos of the three major political parties of Pakistan.
- The manifestos are high on promises to address the economic problems faced by Pakistan. While PML-N seeks to bring about political and judicial reforms, PPP and PTI are not too committed to them.
- On India, there is a common refrain that reconciliation with India is desirable but the Kashmir issue continues to remain a dampener.
Pakistan, a country with a population of over 241 million, is preparing for its 14th general elections on 8 February 2024 after a significant delay. The election will feature 17,800 candidates running for 266 National Assembly and 593 provincial assembly seats. However, this election has already come under scrutiny due to allegations of pre-election rigging and malpractices, and it is likely to be influenced by the country's powerful military. Nonetheless, 127 million voters will be able to exercise their right to vote in the elections. 1 However, the façade of democracy is still being maintained at various levels. One important marker of the political parties taking the process seriously is their bid to reach out to the voters through their election manifestos, where their aims and objectives have been well spelt out.
This commentary seeks to analyse the manifestos of the three major political parties of Pakistan, i.e., Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Their manifestos cover a wide range of issues that are crucial for citizens, including judicial reforms, job creation, economic growth, better living conditions, women empowerment, national security, counter-terrorism and foreign policy issues.
PML-N released its election manifesto on 27 January 2024, titled “Pakistan ko Sachhe Manshoorat se Nawaz Do” (Bless Pakistan with True Manifesto) at a ceremony in Lahore, which was attended by party leader Nawaz Sharif and party president Shehbaz Sharif. This title aligns with the PML-N's campaign slogan "Pakistan ko Nawaz Do."
Similarly, PPP also launched its 64-page election manifesto on the same day outlining the party’s promises for the upcoming elections on the same day with the title “Chuno Nai Soch Ko’ (Choose New Thinking). PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, during a rally in Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh, said “We took Benazir’s ideology forward and presented our manifesto based on the principles of fighting poverty and unemployment”.2
Meanwhile, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), whose candidates are contesting as independent candidates due to losing their allotted electoral symbol in the Supreme Court ruling has also unveiled its 168-page long election manifesto on Sunday by Barrister Gohar Khan titled “Shandaar Pakistan, Shandaar Mustaqbil aur Kharaab Maazi se chhutkara” (Empowering Pakistan for a Just, Progressive, and Inclusive Future) during a press conference in Islamabad.3
The PML-N manifesto pledges to strengthen the parliament and restore Articles 62 and 63 to their original form, while also providing more clarification in Article 63A. The party also promises to reform the legal and justice systems, ensuring that major and complex cases are decided within one year and smaller cases within two months.
Additionally, the manifesto pledges to abolish the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and create an Ethics Committee to monitor the conduct of parliamentarians. The party also plans to introduce various initiatives to attract overseas Pakistanis. Furthermore, the manifesto promises to safeguard the life, property, and places of worship of minorities in Pakistan and take strict action against anyone who incites violence against them through hate speech, whether it is verbal, visual, or written.
On the other hand, the PPP in its manifesto promised to amend Article 38(d) to make the fundamental right of citizens to food, health, and housing justiciable. It also vowed to criminalise enforced disappearances and it also promised to sign and ratify the International Convention on Enforced Disappearances. At the provincial level, the PPP promised to revive and upscale the Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan initiative in Balochistan, work on the creation of a separate province of South Punjab in line with the Constitutional Amendment Bill passed by the Senate of Pakistan in March 2014, giving fiscal autonomy for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and increasing the development budget of “Azad Jammu and Kashmir”. PPP also promised to ensure implementation in letter and spirit of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2018.
On the issue of minority protection, PPP promises the protection of minorities' rights guaranteed by the constitution. Its manifesto emphasises the need for updating the Christian Personal Laws as well as Hindu Personal Laws to make them consistent with the demands of the communities. It also promises a five percent job quota for minorities. For overseas Pakistanis, the PPP pledges to grant them the right to vote. It also promised 8 per cent hike in minimum wage every year.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) included Imran Khan's vision of a welfare state called 'Riyasat-i-Madina' in its manifesto. The party promised to reform the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), bring judicial reforms by making the selection of judges more transparent, and provide direct elections for the Prime Minister to reduce the influence of vested interests. The party proposed reducing the tenure of the National Assembly to four years and the Senate's to five years. It also proposed the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to bridge the existing divides in the country and identify and address “blunders” made in history.4 It reaffirmed the proposal of giving voting rights to overseas Pakistani voters.
On the Economic front, PML-N aims to reduce inflation by 10 percent by the fiscal year 2025, bring inflation down to 4-6 percent within four years, limit the Current Account Deficit (CAD) to 1.5 per cent of the GDP, and achieve an economic growth rate of over 6 per cent in three years. The annual remittance target of manpower will be set at US$ 40 billion and the increase of per capita income to US$ 2,000 in the next five years. It also promises to provide 10 million jobs in the next five years.
In the energy sector, it promised to continue the nationwide 10,000 MW solar initiative, launched by the PMLN-led government in 2022, over the next five years to lower average electricity costs and reduce fuel import expenses. It also promises to reduce electricity bills by 20-30 percent.
PPP in its manifesto pledges to bring people-centric economic policies by outlining necessary steps to bring Pakistan on the path to prosperity and inclusive growth. PPP has vowed to double the salaries as a priority if it culminates in power. It also pledges to expand the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) Network to provide much-needed support to the additional citizens who have fallen below the poverty line. Further, as a part of its poverty alleviation programme, it promised to expand the Waseela-e-Haq (WeH or rightful facilitation) programme to provide micro-loans to women to enhance small businesses, Waseela-e-Taleem (WeT or Facilitation for Education) programme will provide direct cash transfers to eligible children in the household and Waseela-e-Rozgar (WER) provide vocational employment training. It also promised the initiatives for the ‘Bhook Mitao Programme’ (put an end to hunger) to address hunger and food insecurity in the country.
PTI has highlighted the economic challenges currently Pakistan is facing in its manifesto. These challenges include a low saving rate, growth that is primarily funded by debt, weak fiscal sustainability, reduced productivity and competitiveness, policies that are unfavourable to exports, the near-collapse of the energy sector, and an absence of an environment that is conducive to private sector investment. The party pledged to overhaul the tax system and broaden its base while offering subsidies specifically to farmers. The manifesto provides a comprehensive overview of the various capacity-building initiatives targeting the youth. Specifically, it highlights the diverse skill development and vocational training programmes designed to foster their growth and development. Gohar Khan added that the party’s slogan for this purpose was ‘Parha Likha Pakistan, Hunarmand Pakistan (Educated Pakistan, Skilled Pakistan).
Foreign Policy initiatives
The PML-N manifesto includes measures in foreign policy, emphasizing the establishment of “stable relations with India” and talks about holding the much-delayed SAARC Summit in Islamabad, as had been promised by India, would be the concrete first step in putting the regional cooperation policy back on track. It says that relations with India would be anchored in mutual respect, a shared vision for regional stability, and economic growth the following lines:
- Both nations need to engage in sustained diplomatic dialogue to address and mitigate regional tensions
- Primacy will be given to the resolution of disputes, especially that of Jammu and Kashmir.
- Pakistan would strive for a balanced partnership, ensuring equitable opportunities for both sides.
- Trade between India and Pakistan and connectivity within the SAARC region, can open up new vistas for regional prosperity. Holding the much-delayed SAARC Summit in Islamabad, as had been promised by India, would be the concrete first step in putting the regional cooperation policy back on track.
However, the manifesto pays attention to the perspective advanced by Pakistan’s deep state on Kashmir and mentions in a separate section titled ‘diplomatic ties’ that PML-N “strongly holds the position that normalisation of ties with India, cannot take place till New Delhi reverses the unilateral measures taken on August 5, 2019”. This finds a prime of place in the highlights as well. It is generally believed in Pakistan that Nawaz Sharif staked his political position and antagonised the army leadership by advancing the cause of normalisation of relations with India. The position that PML-N would establish ties only if India reversed the measures taken on 9 August 2019 is apparently aimed at reassuring the military that he would not cross the Rubicon if he returns to power. Whether he would engage the Indian leadership after coming to power in spite of such position taken in the manifesto remains to be seen.
It also talks about collaborating with neighbouring countries including Iran, Afghanistan, China and India, on cross-border transportation projects to enhance regional connectivity and economic cooperation and initiate “trans-boundary cooperation between India and Pakistan on the pattern of the Asean Haze Convention to reduce the impact of crop burning dependent on the direction of the wind”.
On China, the party promises to forge closer ties and ensure that the next phase of CPEC projects is delivered on time. PMLN in its manifesto aimed to build relations with the United States based on ‘equality and mutuality of interests’, especially in promoting regional peace and security, economy, science, technology and innovation, and exchanges in the fields of education. It also emphasises efforts to be made to enhance relations and implement an effective border system with Afghanistan for peace and trade. It also focuses on building strong relations with Afghanistan to promote regional connectivity, economic growth and energy transmission, through projects such as CPEC, TAPI, CASA and others.
PML-N promises to make efforts to raise the global voice against the genocide of Palestinians by Israel and finalize a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Turkey to enable faster economic growth and prosperity in Pakistan. It also pledges to prioritise the tourism sector in Pakistan.
The PPP's foreign policy manifesto prioritizes policies that align with the collective aspirations of the Pakistani people. It highlights the importance of constructive engagement with neighbouring countries. With regard to Afghanistan, the manifesto stresses the need for closer political, military, and intelligence cooperation with Kabul to tackle various transnational challenges such as militant spillover, regrouping of terrorist groups, and drug and arms trafficking. On China, PPP also vows to strengthen the bilateral relations and cooperate in various fields including trade and security. It stresses the need to protect the CPEC from external threats, including terrorism and hostile, subversive elements.
Regarding India, PPP’s manifesto suggests that both countries should focus on conflict resolution rather than perpetuating conflict, and blames India for the same. It acknowledges the need for normalizing relations between the two countries for regional peace and stability. However, the manifesto notes, much like that of PML-N, that India's actions on 5 August 2019 in Kashmir went too far and crossed a red line. The PPP believes that India's false flag operations, illegal surveillance, and espionage in Pakistan are clear indications of strategic aggression.
The PPP has also reiterated its commitment to championing trans-regional energy and infrastructure projects such as the Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, the CASA-1000 power transmission project, and other rail and road connectivity initiatives as part of regional cooperation. Regarding the Middle East and GCC, both PML-N and the PPP have similar policies.
The manifesto of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) highlights the importance of building Pakistani foreign policy based on the nation's Islamic identity and principles. The party pledges to prioritize Pakistan's interests globally with a "Pakistan First" policy and a commitment to stand up for the oppressed people of Kashmir and Palestine, advocating for their right to self-determination. It also promises to maintain and further promote Pakistan's special relations with other Muslim countries, as well as with its all-weather ally China.
The three premier political parties have made promises that range from basic to complex security and foreign policy issues. While these promises seem convincing, the people of Pakistan are largely disillusioned with the political class in general, mainly because while the parties have made tall promises there is no discussion on the plan, they have, to achieve them. Given the current economic conditions of Pakistan and the strict regulations of the IMF, it seems impossible for any party to deliver on their promises to provide subsidies on electricity and agricultural products, as well as any kind of financial assistance or relief packages.
It is also important to consider the sincerity and commitment of political parties to follow through on their promises. If one goes by their past performances, it appears that they have not delivered on their commitments in the past. Despite holding power at both federal and provincial levels, they have failed to improve the living conditions of the common people. This explains the apathy of the people towards politics in general and elections in particualr.
It should also be noted that all three major political parties are all either led by a specific family (PML-N by the Sharif family and PPP by the Bhutto Zardari family) or by a single cult personality (like Imran Khan of PTI) and lack intra-party democracy. Therefore, it is unlikely that any significant democratic reforms or genuine representation will be there even if any of these parties assumes power after the elections. The manifestos are unlikely to sway public sentiments in favour of any of the parties contesting the elections.
Despite the pervasive popular apathy, the election fever is catching up with some section of the people and it will be interesting to see which party they will choose to lead the country for the next five years.
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.
2. Stamp ‘Arrow’ instead of voting independent candidates, Bilawal ‘again’ asks PTI workers, Pakistan Today, 29 January 2024. https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2024/01/29/stamp-arrow-instead-of-voting-independent-candidates-bilawal-again-asks-pti-workers/
3. Political Parties ramp up electioneering as Feb 8 polls inch closer, Dawn, January 28, 2024. https://www.dawn.com/news/1809292/ptis-gohar-khan-unveils-partys-election-manifesto-promising-social-constitutional-reforms
4. Ikram Junaidi & Imtiaz Ali, “PTI unveils manifesto as police disperse several rallies,” Dawn, 29 January 2024. https://www.dawn.com/news/1809422/pti-unveils-manifesto-as-police-disperse-several-rallies