ISLAMABAD: Opposition parties may cash in on the tough measures likely to be introduced by the government in the upcoming mini-budget, political pundits insist.
The government is scheduled to announce mini-budget tomorrow (Tuesday) which, according to these pundits, is not an opportune time in view of the upcoming by-elections on 37 general seats, including 11 in the National Assembly, 13 in Punjab Assembly, nine in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assembly and two each in Sindh and Balochistan assemblies.
Reports suggest that the government may increase taxes on various items, besides withdrawing what it deems populist measures introduced by the previous government in the Budget 2018-19.
It was also reported that the government had decided to increase income tax on the salaried class, but Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry had denied it.
Some government officials, however, believe that the mini-budget should have been deferred until after the by-elections scheduled for October 14.
“Introducing mini-budget measures just before by-elections is not a wise move,” said a government official, requesting anonymity. Such strict budgetary measures would allow opposition parties to fuel anti-government sentiments, he added.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan has a very clear view about improving Pakistan’s economy, by increasing taxes and broadening the tax base. But this is not the right time. You simply cannot enforce unpopular decisions just before by-elections,” said the official.
The PML-N, he said, had attracted a lot of sympathies in the wake of the death of former first lady Kulsoom Nawaz. “In such a situation, the government needs to avoid taking any unpopular measure that could cost them dear in the coming by-polls,” he added.
Former secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Kanwar Dilshad also agreed with the view. Any new budgetary measures should be deferred till October 14, he said.
“Populist measures attract widespread public support regardless of the financial consequences on the national economy,” he said, adding that doing away with these budgetary measures would not be easy.
“In my opinion, such tough measures may erode PTI’s vote bank,” said Dilshad.
But, a senior office-bearer of PTI’s K-P chapter disagreed with this analysis.
“The previous PML-N government had introduced populist and unrealistic budgetary measures. But they still lost the July 25 election not only at the Centre but also in the provinces. This proves that masses do not subscribe to their ideas,” he said.
The PTI leader said that the measures likely to be introduced in the mini-budget had been thoroughly discussed within the party, and Prime Minister Imran Khan had personally given the go-ahead after reviewing the whole situation.
Disagreeing with the assertion that the PML-N might be able to attract sympathy vote in the by-polls, he said, “The PML-N also expected the imprisonment of the Sharifs to woo the voters, but that did not happen. The party still lost the general election and there was no agitation against the imprisonment of the former PM, his daughter and the son-in-law. Nowadays, sympathy factor rarely works in politics.”
The PTI office-bearer was instead of the view that the new measures could boost PTI’s popularity graph ahead of the by-polls.
“Public knows this fully well that whatever the PM and his team are doing is in the best national interest. As long as our government remains sincere and maintains its integrity, people will accept anything from us and vote for us the way they did in the general election.”
(This news/article originally appeared in The Express Tribune on September 17th, 2018)