Political party manifestos are not given the attention they deserve, even where they were developed, the UK, because they are considered impossible to fulfill. They are useless if the party making the promises is not elected to office, while if it does win, it apparently ignores those promises, not even trying to do anything about the promises it made. One British commentator said that manifestoes were actually pieces of extended political journalism, meant to convince voters rather than reveal how the party would govern. Pakistani manifestos get even shorter shrift because both party and voter know that they do not provide any meaningful guidelines, and are merely a sort of formality. The PML(N) has yet to release its manifesto, even though a large manifesto committee of over 30 members was set up, with the release date of February 27 coming just 12 days before the election itself. Thus it is almost in the middle of the three weeks the ECP has allowed, for the campaign itself. Similarly, though the PTI intended to launch on January 7, there was a widespread internet disruption. The PTI could continue with its telethon, though. The manifesto is still not launched, though there must have been something to launch a fortnight ago. The PPP has launched its manifesto, though, and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto has even campaigned on it.
However, that manifesto, and the younger Mr Zardari’s use of it, highlights another problem. The promises made are all very well, such as the building of three million houses for the poor, and the expansion of the Benazir Income Programme, but the manifesto is coy about where the money is to be found. The silence of the parties, which have all launched their campaigns, on relations with the IMF and other creditors, also does not bode well.
It is not enough for the parties to present manifestos. Their tendency to throw caution to the winds and make promises that even their audience knows they have no intention of keeping is one of the reasons democracy has not developed in the country. It is the duty of voters to ensure that those they elect stick to their manifestos. There seems to be no debate on how well the major parties have performed on their manifestos, even though all three had a chance of fulfilling them during stints in government. Unless parties are held accountable, they will keep making promises they can’t keep.