Finance Minister Miftah Ismail was hailed for bringing the mammoth trading community under tax net. However last month he had to roll back the fixed monthly tax on traders after PML(N) Vice President Maryam Nawaz pleaded the community’s case. The exemption was calculated to have caused a Rs30 billion dent in the national exchequer while helping nearly 1.8 million retailers to remain outside the tax net. The step coincided with the drastic increase in income tax on salaried people and corporates as the government endeavored to meet IMF-mandated revenue targets. As the entire country made sacrifices in one way or another, the interests of the PML(N)’s core constituency in Punjab were well protected. Politics thus took toll of economic priorities.
After losing the recent by-elections in Punjab, former PM Nawaz Sharif and those close to him have been looking for an opportunity to increase the PML(N)’s ratings in the province. They think that the increase in petroleum prices by their own government has given the party a chance to seek popularity. Vice President Maryam Nawaz on Tuesday said party supremo Nawaz Sharif “strongly opposed” the government’s decision to raise petroleum prices as he could not allow the burdening of the people with another penny. The party chief had reportedly maintained that if the government’s hands are tied, he would not be party to this decision. Nawaz Sharif’s walkout from the meeting could indicate loosening of his grip on PML(N) leaders. It may not be feasible for Maryam Nawaz to play on both sides of the wicket. Her denial of support to hike in petroleum prices will not help consumers queued up at petrol stations. By continuing to retain the party office she makes herself responsible for whatever PM Shehbaz Sharif‘s government does.
To attract voters in next elections the PML(N) needs an effective narrative which currently it does not possess. “Vote ko izzat do” has become shop soiled. There is little to attract the urban youth in PML(N) rallies. This shows why Maryam Nawaz failed to compete with Imran Khan in attracting charged audiences during her recent by-election rallies in Punjab.