Whose manifesto is the best?

Editorial: Whose manifesto is the best?
Daily Times, December 26, 2007

Transparency International (TI) gives first place to the election manifesto of the PMLN because it most coincides with TI’s own recommendations about what the next government should do in Pakistan. PMLN in fact scored 10 out of 11 (recommendations) while the MQM scored closely with nine, PPP seven and PMLQ five. All the coalition and opposition parties in the 2002-2007 parliament agreed that NAB should be revamped, disbanded or reconstituted. All agreed that there should be no “discretion” (ad hoc powers) in any administrative decisions, and that they would combat corruption. So far everyone scores nicely.

From hindsight, the main parties also put in their manifesto pledges to recruit functionaries on merit, although the PPP is said to have ignored a pledge to privatise. The PMLN was vigilant and pledged computerisation of land records while ruling out the recruitment of the city traffic police on the Motorway Police model. TI may have put the dreams of all Pakistanis in its recommendations, but if the political parties put them in their manifestoes they are supposed to deliver. But few Pakistanis will believe that the parties will, for instance, do away with corruption after implicitly admitting, through the pledge to undo NAB, that they can only victimise their political opponents through the anti-corruption process.

We note that the PMLN manifesto is committed to the restoration of the 1973 Constitution as it stood before 12 October 1999. So we need to ask how TI rates this undertaking as it takes Pakistan back to separate electorates and ousts the women from parliament? Swearing that the PMLN would restore the fired judges has already been reduced to “we will try our best” as such a step would require cooperation with the other parties expected to score big in the coming elections. They have already sworn to an “independent judiciary” and not “restoration” of judges they may think were not independent to begin with because of their subjection to the PCO. The manifesto also promises to restore the Cabinet Committee on Defence and National Security headed by the prime minister. This would be easy because the PMLQ was never able to persuade its MMA negotiators on LFO that the National Security Council should be made part of the Constitution.

What the PMLN must be given full marks for is the pledge that it would curtail, if not totally abolish, the Concurrent List in the Constitution. But the problem is that the Punjab-based parties must realise that the matter has gone much beyond the matter of the Concurrent List. The time has come to take another look at the Federal List to see if that needs to be changed to reconcile the alienated smaller provinces. This was important as far as the PMLN manifesto is concerned because the last time the PMLQ went to Balochistan to discuss the rights of the provinces it could not get its recommendations agreed back in Islamabad. So the PMLN would require parliamentary consensus for increasing the Senate seats and allocation of seats to parties and making this allocation on the basis of proportional representation.

The PMLN scored on some other counts as well although one has to wait and see how many of the promises it has made will ever be practicably fulfilled. It wants to establish a federal constitutional court with equal representation from all provinces “to resolve constitutional issues”. And it wants to do away with all the special courts, including anti-terrorism and accountability courts, it once so enthusiastically backed “to deliver justice at people’s doorsteps”. It says it will revamp the Election Commission and appoint its commissioner after consulting with the leader of the Opposition in parliament. And, somewhat less realistically, it has pledged to set up a commission “to identify the causes of and to fix the responsibility for the Kargil fiasco”; to close all election cells in intelligence and military establishments and remove the ban on the third term for the office of the prime minister; and depoliticise bureaucracy and give its jobs a constitutional cover; and withdraw all discretionary power at all levels.

One can only judge the manifestoes on the selection of their themes, not on the credibility of the party promising good times, in particular on anything relating to the economy. By steering clear of the economy, by and large, the PMLN framers of the manifesto have won the kudos of TI, but then the point is: how can one appeal to the common voter without talking to him about radically changing his economic status? Whether you appeal to the rational agenda of TI or the more emotional requirement of the masses, the yardstick of reality remains a tough challenge in both cases. *

Also See: Situation not conducive for fair elections: PILDAT group

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