Sunday, April 13, 2014

Daily Times Editorial April 14, 2014

The political landscape Barely nine months into its tenure, the PML-N government has received a boost from the latest Gallup Pakistan survey, which claims an overall approval of the government’s performance, particularly in comparison with the previous PPP-led government (an improvement of 59 percent). First, the survey findings. The survey report says despite inheriting a fragile economy, deteriorating law and order, strained ties with neighbouring countries and uncontrollable inflation, the PML-N government managed to put things in order through independent and prudent policies. As many as 55 percent of respondents gave the government a favourable rating, compared to 40 percent unfavourable. The survey claims to be a nationally representative poll in the urban and rural areas of the country. The sample of respondents consisted of 2,596 adult men and women whose views were solicited through face-to-face interviews. The sample was selected through the probability sampling method with an error margin of 3-5 percent at 95 percent confidence level. The field work for the survey was conducted between January 6 to 13, 2014. For six key indicators, the government received positive comparative net performance ratings. On the economy, the government received a 48 percent comparative net performance rating, on Pakistan-India relations 22 percent, foreign policy 33 percent, terrorism control 31 percent, corruption control 36 percent and inflation control 20 percent. The net performance ratings for political leaders saw Nawaz Sharif leading with 18 percent favourable rating, Asif Ali Zardari minus 28 percent, Imran Khan at minus five percent, Alta Hussain minus 39 percent, Maulana Fazlur Rehman minus 21 percent and Asfandyar Wali Khan minus 34 percent. Outgoing Jamaat-i-Islami chief Munawar Hasan’s rating remained unchanged. On controlling inflation, terrorism and corruption, the government won favourable ratings over the previous government by 20, 31 and 36 percent respectively. Amongst provincial chief ministers, Punjab’s Shahbaz Sharif was rated ‘very good’ by 21 percent respondents and ‘good’ by 28 percent. Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah (like Shahbaz Sharif in his second consecutive tenure) obtained six percent ‘very good’, while both the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan chief ministers got a four percent ‘very good’ rating. While Gallup Pakistan’s survey results may bring satisfaction to some parties and leaders and disappointment if not anger to others, the survey’s findings should be treated with caution. The old maxim goes something like: there are lies, damn lies, and then statistics. Generalised sweeping conclusions cannot and should not be drawn from a narrow sample, let alone anointing the findings with the mantle of unassailable truth. Having said that, let us first and foremost concede that a favourable comparison with the previous PPP-led government is not saying much. That government bitterly disappointed many in its own ranks and supporters amongst the electorate, the latter having punished the party in the May 2013 elections with defeat at the polls, with the exception of the PPP’s solid stronghold of Sindh. Nevertheless, the laudatory findings of the survey regarding the present government may owe more to bias and hype (not to mention the unknowns at present of the sample spread and the manner of drafting the questions) than reality. The government is widely perceived as a business-friendly government that is relying on the business community (to whom the top leadership of the PML-N belongs) to pull the country’s economic chestnuts out of the fire. In the process, the implied if not stated approach seems still to rely on trickle down theories that have been almost universally discredited on the basis of decades of practical experience. The rich do not share their increased profits in a recovering or booming economy; they simply divert their surplus profits to even more conspicuous consumption, with little or no benefit to the ordinary citizen. That phenomenon is palpable in Pakistan, with working class and even middle class people groaning under the burden of unemployment, high inflation, insecurity of life and limb and with no chink of light at the end of what appears to be a very long dark tunnel. The terrorists are being appeased. Pakistan-India relations are on hold. Overall foreign policy sees relations with all neighbours fraught, great uncertainty and possible conflict looming over the Afghanistan horizon, and the project of post-withdrawal relations with the US and west riddled with troubling questions. The corruption issue has not yet yielded any major scandal, but the systemic corruption that is a bleeding wound for state and society remains untouched. How then, with this reality check, can we be sanguine about Gallup Pakistan’s findings?

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