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Five years on: A poorer, hungrier nation
Publication Date : 18-03-2013
If electoral democracy were a cake, Pakistanis would be coming off of a five-year binge. Instead, the nation is poorer, hungrier, and more deprived today than it was in March 2008.
For the first time since independence in 1947, democratically elected legislatures are completing their constitutionally mandated tenures in Pakistan without being summarily uprooted by a military regime or its civilian proxy. This is indeed a significant landmark in Pakistan’s democratic journey.
Despite the historic achievement, the sorry state of the federation where law and order has disappeared and corruption is ubiquitous, and where economy and utilities have faltered, would prompt the electorate to question the real value of electoral democracy. Has electoral democracy been able to deliver jobs to the unemployed, and food to the poor? A quick economic recap of the past five years is in order.
The Zardari government took over from General Musharraf who reluctantly relinquished control after it became apparent that a showdown between the General and political forces was imminent. What started with a great promise turned quickly into a major disappointment? Within months, the naivete of the new government was evident as one sector of the economy was mismanaged after the other. While the Musharraf regime posted 6 per cent to 8 per cent economic growth rates, the Zardari government couldn’t muster even a 4 per cent GDP growth.
It is, however, true that good fortune did not favour the elected governments. Whereas, the Musharraf regime enjoyed the dividends of a rapidly growing global economy in which the Americans and the Europeans were keen to shower cash for Pakistani mercenaries and bounty hunters, the Zardari government came to power in 2008 when the global economies experienced the worst economic recession since the great depression of the 30s. The demand for Pakistani goods declined and investment flows dried up, thus starving Pakistani industries.
And while the economic growth was dismal at best, the stock markets in Pakistan continued to reach new heights. Even with the worsening of law and order and a near complete collapse of the power sector that crippled the manufacturing sector, the KSE 100 index continued to grow, fuelled most likely by ‘irrational exuberance.’
The lackluster economic growth resulted in a sustained higher than usual unemployment rate that lasted throughout the five year democratic rule. The per capita GDP (measured in US$ in constant 2000 prices) during the same period grew by mere $30. At the same time, the economic managers fail to arrest the sharp increase in consumer prices that grew by 80 per cent in a short span of five years. The result was catastrophic for low to mid-income households who faced limited opportunities to earn a living, while the cost of living continued to climb.
Good governance, amongst others, is as much a part of democracy as electioneering is. However, governance has not been a core value of the political parties that controlled legislatures in Pakistan. We are indeed indebted to the Zardari government in the centre and the four provincial governments to have the fortitude and ability to complete their constitutional tenures. However, the same left the nation buried under a mountain of foreign debt that ballooned from $45 billion in 2008 to over $65 billion in 2012. The government debt to GDP ratio, which was down to 55 per cent in 2008, rose to 60 per cent in 2012.
The economic scorecard of the democratically elected government in Pakistan suggests that the past five years have been a major disappointment for the electorate. The government failed to recognise its responsibility to create the necessary environment in which commerce could flourish and the private sector could create jobs for the rapidly expanding younger cohorts.
The past five years have left the nation poorer and hungrier. A 2011 national survey revealed that widespread malnutrition in Pakistan has caused 44 per cent of the children under 5 years of age to have stunted growth. In Sindh, the power base of the Zardari government, three in four households were food insecure.
Democracy is all about the fulfillment of physical and spiritual needs of a people. For Pakistanis though, the democratic rule has meant darkness, hunger, and violence. Surely, Pakistanis deserve much better and are justified in expecting improved governance from the next cadre.
The writer is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto.