Differences and similarities
The PML-N can claim that it heads a coalition government in Balochistan also. The change over from the National Party chief minister to the PML-N chief minister however took place as a result of a formula allowing the PML-N to share half the tenure with NP
Pakistan has three major political parties i.e., the PML-N, PPP and PTI. They are also called mainstream parties because unlike religious parties or nationalist outfits, they do not have an agenda that appeals only to a section of society. What is more each one of these parties has formed the government in a single province and has presence in other provinces also. While the PTI made an entry into power politics in 2013, the PML-N and PPP are old players who have suffered and come down by being largely confined to one province each. Keeping in view of the results of the by-elections and Local Government polls, there is a likelihood of their remaining limited to their respective provinces in 2018 polls also.
The PML-N can claim that it heads a coalition government in Balochistan also. The change over from the National Party chief minister to the PML-N chief minister however took place as a result of a formula allowing the PML-N to share half the tenure with NP.
Each one of the three parties claims to be different from others. The PML-N presents itself, and is largely seen to be, as a business friendly party and maintains that it alone can turn around the national economy. The PPP backed by big landlords of Sindh and South Punjab claims to be the champion of the downtrodden sections of society including the working class, minorities and women. The PTI claims to introduce an honest administration, end corruption and practice good governance.
How far their claims are correct remains highly questionable.
The PPP took no significant measures during its 2008- 2009 tenure for the welfare of the common man whose plight continued to deteriorate because of increase in poverty on account of rising unemployment combined with inflation. There were many stories about parents selling their children and suicides committed because of inability to make both ends meet.
The minorities too faced problems. There were reports of forced conversion of Hindu girls in Sindh, leading to migration of many families to India. The PPP hesitated to take strong measures because one of its MNAs was actively involved in encouraging conversions. The Baloch suffered the most under the PPP with rising incidents of forced disappearances and extra judicial killings.
The PML-N had promised to put an end to circular debt which has however continued to increase after the initial settlement in a secretive manner. The party had also promised to bring foreign investments. Leaving aside the CPEC, few investments have come from abroad. The cost of doing business being very high on account of exorbitant utility charges, some of the local investors have opened businesses abroad. The government planners have totally ignored the agricultural sector which is the backbone of the economy. The cumulative effect of bad policies is that there is a steady decline in the country’s exports.
The PTI claims to have introduced an efficient and honest police system in KP. Driven by political exigencies, however, the PTI tends to ignore good governance. KP government has lavished huge funds on Madrassah Haqqania, a seminary known for producing terrorists. Over the last three years charges of corruption have been leveled against several PTI minister including the chief minister. The party broke off its alliance with QWP accusing its minister of indulging in corruption. Months later it again brought back QWP into the coalition.
Despite their sharp differences, the PML-N, PPP and PTI have a number of traits in common.
To start with all the three parties revolve around a single individual or family. The PML-N, as its name indicates, is the party of of Nawaz Sharif and his family. The PPP is the party of the Shaheeds ZAB and BB. It is practically being run by Zardari who basks in the reflected glory of Benazir Bhutto.
The PTI is led by Imran Khan, its unchallengeable and invariably right helmsman.
Again, all the three parties have failed to develop democratic culture in their ranks. Their leadership has in fact discouraged whatever attempts were ever made in the direction. While the parties hold intraparty elections at the district, division and provincial level, they shun these at the central level. Even when elections are conducted under the directives of the Election Commission, the party heads remain unchanged.
The PML-N elected Nawaz Sharif in 2011 after a gap of ten years. No party election took place during his exile abroad or after 2011.
All the three parties had promised to hold local government elections, protect the minorities, secure women’s rights and hold census. Imran Khan had promised to finish corruption within months
The PPP leadership has neatly divided the party into PPP, the mother party, and its electoral extension the PPP Parliamentarians. The PPP has a permanent, hereditary leadership. In early 1990’s Benazir Bhutto was declared to be the PPP chairperson for life. After her death a document purported to be her will was produced. In accordance with it her 19 year old son Bilawal was appointed party Chairperson while Zardari was to act as Co-Chairperson. With the real power vesting in the PPP leadership, party loyalists Makhdum Amin Faheem and Raja Pervez Ashraf were nominated the president and secretary general of the PPP-Parliamentarians. After the death of Amon Faheem, Zardari appointed himself the President of PPP-P besides continuing to be the Co-chairperson of PPP.
Despite Imran Khan’s promises of holding fair and free intraparty polls in the PTI and announcing several schedules and dates for the exercise, the election continues to be postponed on one pretext or another. Meanwhile two Election Commissioners nominated by Imran Khan have resigned in disgust because of difference with the party chief on the mode of elections.
The three parties have a cavalier-like approach to their election manifestos. The manifestos are announced with the sole aim of catching votes. Once in power the parties often tend to forget what they had promised. Little attention is given to the feasibility of promises made. The perception is that the people have short memory and they would soon forget what the parties had vowed to do for them.
All the three parties had promised to hold local government elections, protect the minorities, secure women’s rights and hold census. Imran Khan had promised to finish corruption within months.
They had vowed to hold Local Government elections as required under the constitution immediately after general elections. Once in power none of them showed keenness to hold the elections as they were unwilling to share the development funds with Local Governments. As no LG elections had been held after 2000, the Supreme Court started issuing directives to the provincial governments soon after the 2013 elections to prepare for polls. It took the parties another two years to hold the polls and that too when the Supreme Court threatened action. Even after the elections had been held the Local Governments were not given administrative and financial powers.
The general lack of interest among mainstream parties has taken away some of the shine of democracy. A comparative study of the voter turnout in South Asia shows Pakistan second lowest in the region. According to the ranking Sri Lanka is at the top in voter turnout with 76.55pc in parliamentary and 81.52pc I 2015 presidential polls, Nepal is second with 78.34pc in 2014, India 2014 66.4pc, Pakistan 55,4pc in 2013 polls and Bangladesh 51.4pc in 2014 polls.
The only hope is that with democracy prevailing the three parties will learn from their mistakes and change or be replaced overtime by new mainstream parties more committed to democracy and the wellbeing of the people. If past experience is any guide the parties are extremely slow on the uptake.