The PML(N) and the PPP both presented their manifestoes on Saturday, less than a fortnight before the February 8 poll, while their main opposition, the PTI, has still to present its own document. As was expected, both parties made promises but without disclosing their strategies on two matters: where they would find the money to do what they promised, and how they planned to deal with the IMF. Dealing with the IMF is perhaps the key issue, for most of their promises involve contradictory promises, such as about electricity tariffs, already made to the IMF. Perhaps one or both parties knows how to square the circle, but it seems that promises can either be kept to the IMF or to the people of Pakistan. Perhaps the only sign of hope to come out of the inordinately delayed exercise is that both these major parties have accepted that there is an economic crisis, and have zeroed in on the main problem for the common man, inflation. Indeed, the PPP had already launched a 10-economic agenda, which accepted that this was the principal focus of the electorate, and harked back to 1970, when the party fought the election on an economic programme summed up in the iconic slogan roti, kapra aur makaan (food, clothing and housing).
That seems to have been taken over by the PTI in 2018, With its promise then of millions of houses and millions of jobs, it seems to have been inspired by the PPP. While the PPP has promised three million houses, the PML(N) has promised millions of jobs. Neither party has explained how it would succeed where the PTI failed. The PML(N) has stuck its neck out by promising 6.5 percent growth. That would be needed for the creation of the jobs it has promised. How exactly, or even roughly it is to be achieved is the subject of a coy silence.
The electorate is thus heading into the election without any precise idea of what steps the parties stand for. It seems that every party is running on reputations. Mian Nawaz is said to be a good economic manager. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is heir to party founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Imran Khan is said to be free from corruption. In 2018, at least the PTI claimed to have a very competent team, and Asad Umar (now having left the party) was being winked at as the next Finance Minister. No party has indicated who will get the crucial finance portfolio if it wins.