Hasn’t the PM’s “relief package” lit the whole place up? Even the stock market was up almost a percentage point as investors bought into the idea that a ten rupee per litre reduction in the price of petrol and a 5 rupee per unit reduction in electricity tariff would suddenly usher in the economic nirvana that Naya Pakistan was supposed to be about all along. Althought the last thing anybody, especially common Pakistanis, would want is for someone to pop this pleasing bubble, the fact is that this one’s full of nothing but hot air, so it’s bound to burst on its own sooner rather than later.
For, even if the absurdity of reducing petrol prices by ten rupees per litre barely a fortnight after raising it by twelve rupees per litre wasn’t enough, there are two very important questions that nobody’s answered so far. One, what’s the IMF going to say about all this? This is very important, because it was pressure from the Fund, nothing else, that made the fourth (or is it fifth?) finance minister of this administration roll back his expansionary budget – which also made everybody celebrate and the equity market rise – and then eat his words at the time of the mini-budget just to keep the debt flowing. Why the sudden change of heart? What made the Prime Minister, who had no qualms about increasing prices by twelve rupees hardly fifteen days ago, so uncomfortable with keeping prices there?
And two, where’s the money going to come from? The press didn’t take too long to work out that these measures, which are supposed to stay in effect all the way to the budget, will run into hundreds of billions of rupees. How did this fiscal space suddenly pop up when the government just had to slash all subsidies, raise further taxes, and still bend over backwards just for an extra billion dollars from the Extended Fund Facility (EFF)?
When the people and the markets think about this and put two and two together, which they will eventually, then this house of cards will come crumbling down. Then it will also become very apparent that the only thing that made the selected PM make these concessions was the pressure mounting on him from the opposition’s long marches and no-confidence threats. He didn’t mention these things in his address to the nation, because he didn’t have to, but he’s effectively made it clear that he no longer feels that his administration can continue with such high public disapproval and, from the looks of it, has decided to give becoming a political martyr a try. You can almost hear him shout “didn’t I give the people the relief they needed just before they booted me out?” from his container.
The point is that even if somehow these measures can be made to stick, nobody has forgotten or is willing to forgive that things got to this point only because of the incompetence of this administration. The announcement of the so-called relief measures was in fact the selected Prime Minister’s swan song. Next, his threats of becoming a bigger problem on the streets will be exposed as a complete farce, and he will then be forced to take his place in the forgotten names of history.
The one sure thing that people will really get to cheer very soon, though, is the return of sanity to the country’s political discourse. Nobody has suffered more than Pakistan’s working classes from the ‘PTI experiment’. They need stability and a sense of direction; they will soon get exactly that when the time comes for this government to be sent packing and the people’s real representatives are elected back into power.