By Shakil A Rai
Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
The truth is known, but must not be spoken in order to avoid the inevitable conflagration. Your ascension to the high office has been made possible through a controversial election. The four-year long campaign, preceding this election is also well known and well documented. But we have little time to settle scores and do to your government what you and your faceless sponsors did to the previous one.
Stability and respect for the vote is paramount. So, we pledge full support to your government and hope you deliver on your promises and successfully face the serious economic, social, and political challenges ahead. Here are a few suggestions to tackle the challenges lying ahead.
- From now on you will be surrounded by sharks more than friends. Your sponsors, even your friends, are not coming to your rescue. Instead they will come with more and more demands to advance their institutional and personal priorities. Up to the election time your world view dovetailed with theirs; now under pressure from the challenges of governance it will start to diverge, leading to strain and stress. Be prepared for that.
- Parliament, the institution on which you heaped much insult in the past, is the only place where you may try to find sustainable support to weather the storms ahead. It will not be easy to cultivate enough goodwill to turn it into support against the non-parliamentary forces, but you have no other option, if you want to succeed.
- The Opposition has cried foul in unison right from the day one of the election. It is important to listen to their grievances, real or imaginary. This will establish your legitimacy and cement your authority.
- The judiciary and the military have been the traditional neutral brokers (or umpire, as you prefer to call them) among feuding politicians. This election has made both of them complicit in the alleged manipulation and rigging of the electoral process. Ironically this lends strength to the parliament. Please endorse the demand of the opposition that the Senate, and not bureaucrats, hold open and full inquiry into the election.
- The so-called Bajwa Doctrine primarily aims at undoing, or at least scuttling the implementation of the provisions of the 18th Constitutional amendment. This amendment secured the prime minister against summary dismissal through a single presidential notification. It empowered the provinces more than the advocates of strong Central government would countenance. It was a consensus driven amendment; undoing it through legal means is virtually impossible. Scuttling its implementation will generate resentment against the Center among the provinces, especially the smaller ones. For the sake of the Federation and your own survival stay away from it. Instead make sure to implement it fully.
- This calls for the Eighth National Finance Commission Award, which is now overdue. The advocates of strong Central government are there among the non-democratic forces and do not like the idea. The PMLN government failed to deliver the Award, and PTI cannot afford to dither and delay. Instead the new government needs to work on capacity building among the federating units to help them fully utilize the Award. NFC Award necessitates consensus among the Center and the provinces. To achieve this consensus the ruling party has to negotiate with the Opposition, and the provinces.
- Therefore, no more solo flights, and please rid yourself of the notion that you are the only one who can solve all the problems. Reach across the aisle and demonstrate to the opposition and public that you are ready to take all democratic forces on board. If the opposition comes aboard it will establish your leadership beyond doubt. If they balk you still win in the eyes of the general public. The old ways of humiliating and insulting your political opponents will harm you more than anyone else.
- Pakistan’s economic woes are perennial, and woven into the structure of the economy. Without meaningful structural reforms there is no end to repeated requests for bailouts. Saudi Arabia, China, and IMF have been our traditional lenders of choice. We have been to the IMF for twenty-one times since 1958, and are now ready one more time to request yet another bailout. The Fund like any other moneylender is not known for its generosity and kindness. They offer the lowest interest rate but put tough conditions to disburse the loan. Most likely the Fund would demand privatization of loss making state enterprises like PIA and PSM. They would demand substantial reduction in subsidies. Increase in tax collection can be another demand. The US, the biggest contributor to the IMF wants to make sure you do not use their money to pay off Chinese debt. All together they are tough demands on a political government, but you have little room to maneuver.
- It’s unrealistic to think of a Welfare State, Islamic or otherwise, when you are living on borrowed money. Unless you undertake structural reforms these bailouts will always be temporary relief measures. Before you can have your promised Welfare State you have to have enough surplus cash in the kitty to disburse to the needy. You have to enact a sufficiently tough tax regime and close the loop holes in the tax code to increase tax revenue. In a country where only 1% people pay taxes solvency, let alone prosperity, will remain a distant dream. Conversely you have to offer tax breaks and other incentives to foreign and local investors. That’s catch twenty-two; certainly not an easy situation for anyone.
- You are a tough athlete, and a team leader, both these qualities have to come in full display to ensure success for you and the country.
Good luck Mr. Prime Minister we stand united behind your leadership for the sake of democracy and the Republic. I am waiting for an opportunity to clap for you.
Shakil A Rai