Shahbaz steals the march on PTI
April 06, 2012
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif claims better government through e-governance. He says financial discipline and good governance have been promoted in the province by reducing non-developmental expenditure. He says special attention has been paid to financial discipline and curtailment of non-development expenditure. However, he said, the industrial sector was facing problems due to inadequate energy resources and load-shedding. He said Punjab plays a key role in the national economy but unfortunately it was facing serious problems due to power crisis. Similarly, he said, export orders worth billions of rupees were being cancelled due to power shutdown to industries. He said the government was striving for the provision of additional energy resources and working on the projects of generating electricity from coal, bagasse, solar power and other resources.
Wary of the rising political capital of Imran Khan in the plains of Punjab, the provincial government led by the erstwhile Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has unleashed the most valuable weapon in its arsenal to target the urban youth who are, by far, the vanguard of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf.
Carrying a price tag of three billion rupees, the laptop distribution scheme is supposed to benefit the brightest across campuses across province. The money earmarked to launch this laptop onslaught is meant for the development of the whole province, slicing it off from the Annual Development Programme (ADP) of the province. The chief minister’s aides believe that the scheme would go a long way towards attracting the bulk of youth from the province who, at the moment, have put their weight in the favor of the promise of change by Imran Khan. Confidantes of the chief minister also believe that when these laptops – purchased from the public money – go to students, the entire neighbourhood would sway politically in favour of PML-N. However, detractors of the chief minister are of the view that the scheme would miserably fail just like sasti roti, food stamp, and yellow cab and Ashiana schemes. Critics also point out that the Election Commission must take notice of the misuse of public money in an election year.
Using laptops as a political tool is the latest attempt in the vehemently contested duel for supremacy between the PML-N and the PTI. Just a few months back, the PML-N launched Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz to woo the students of the province. Maryam, while visiting campuses in the city, took the political temperature of the youth and is still active spreading this youth appeal in the students. After the political heir-apparent Hamza Shahbaz was hit by one scandal after another, Maryam was the answer from the PML-N for the youth of Punjab. The initiative, however, after making early headlines is fading fast.
Unlike PPP and PML-N, the problem between PTI and PML-N is that they are both vying for the same vote-bank. Before Imran’s star started shining on the horizon, the PML-N was the sole propertier of this very valuable bank. But more than the youth, it had its appeal in the urban trader and merchant class who were considered the home constituency for the Sharif family, while the youth associated with this class naturally fell to the Sharifs as well.
Now, however, the dynamics have become different. Imran, sensing his chance based on his unmatched charisma and impeccable public service record, leapt to grab this mass of voters that was lying unclaimed. The youth, frustrated, given the torturous machinations of power politics, responded with zeal to the call, setting up stage for a long drawn out political tussle between the two parties. If you take away urban seats of Punjab from the PML-N, it immediately falls down to the level of minor provincial party instead of major national player that it has become now. And if Imran has to score big, he has to attract the urban middle class families and youth.
Interestingly, both the parties are not heading to the countryside which is largely considered the PPP’s domain though the PTI would definitely strive at some point for those seats as well. Thus the GT Road, a road dissecting Punjab vertically, is bastion of PML-N and coincidentally, this is the area where Imran is fancying his chances. However, the fact of the matter is this coveted line has shown no signs of desertion in favour of Imran like some constituencies did in south Punjab. When someone like Rana Nazir, Rana Tanvir and Raja brothers from Jhelum defect for the PTI, that will be the time when the Sharifs would consider calling it a day. As for PTI, Imran would continue to step up pressure on Sharifs and then countdown to see if the PML-N wilts. The stage is set, the battle-lines drawn, the up and the coming challenger are staring straight at Sharifs, let’s see who blinks first.
His style of administration is criticised for being arbitrary and authoritarian. This is evident from the fact that he held 15 provincial departments till recently. Only when the media raised the issue, he did hand over 8 ministries to other cabinet ministers. He is still holding seven additional portfolios.
Shahbaz Sharif has a penchant for rushing things through, bending or bypassing the relevant rules and regulations. His supporters say he snaps bureaucracy’s delaying tactics for the benefit of the public to get things done on time. Civil servants grumble the terms of several huge contracts were amended halfway in violation of rules. There are many objections on the way the forensic laboratory was set up in Lahore or the contract for making the examination boards online was awarded. However, no concrete evidence of corruption was ever produced by his detractors. Shahbaz Sharif repeatedly claims he would quit if corruption of a single penny was proved in works carried out in Punjab during the last four years.
One thing is obvious that the Shahbaz administration failed to reduce Punjab’s crime rate though the police have been able to check the sectarian violence and organised crime. Law Minister Rana Sanaullah while opening debate on public safety in the provincial assembly admitted that heinous crimes showed an increase in 2011. As many as 6,208 cases of murder, 204 cases of kidnapping and 22,452 cases of armed robbery (dacoity) took place in 2011 as compared to the previous year’s 5,768, 167 and 18,000 respectively. The law minister, however, tried to hide the government’s weakness behind the excuse that unemployment was the main reason behind the rising crimes. The culture of devoting a bulk of police’s resources to VIPs remained in vogue as usual though Shahbaz Sharif keeps blurting out sermons on the plight of the poor and singing revolutionary poet Habib Jalib’s poems.
Shahbaz government has launched several schemes targeting young people, especially following Imran Khan’s display of increasing popularity among the youth in 2011. A Skill Development Fund has been set up to dish out interest-free loans worth Rs 1 billion among skilled people. The Punjab Educational Endowment Fund has benefited 30,000 students across the province who received stipends on the basis of their scores in examinations. The Yellow Cab Scheme is also meant to win over young people. The provincial government has also allocated Rs4.5 billion in the FY2011-12 to provide 20,000 taxis at low interest rates. The distribution of 125,000 laptops worth Rs4 billion is yet another such programme. The chief minister plans to dole out 300,000 laptops in the next fiscal budget just ahead of the general elections.