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Budget Politics

by Newsweek Pakistan

Aamir Qureshi—AFP

The opposition is fighting a losing battle in rejecting a budget already embraced by the private sector

The 2018-19 federal budget presented by the outgoing Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)-led government was predictably rejected by the two parties most aggressively opposed to it: the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Video footage from the proceedings showed rival politicians almost coming to blows, lunging at each other and shouting unprintable obscenities.

The PMLN’s justification for presenting the budget was continuity of economic policy, despite having only two months left in its tenure. The opposition, however, declared the budget illegal and rejected the appointment of the un-elected Finance Minister Miftah Ismail as a misinterpretation of the Constitution.

What could be the explanation behind this fiasco? Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s view is that the budget ensures “policy continuity” in the interim setup, allowing the next government to amend or alter the budget after coming into power. The opposition, gunning for the PMLN, alleges it ensures honoring of bribes taken by the government as “commissions.”

The prevalent view in Pakistan of the economic handling of the post-2013 period is negative while the “outside” view expressed by the evaluating agencies has been positive, if not outright complimentary. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who is said to have shored up a sinking economy, is today an absconding criminal. Imran Khan, who is expected to be the next prime minister, has notched up his expletive rhetoric against the PMLN, and the aggression of his young hawks in the National Assembly was in keeping with his “final attack.”

The reaction from the chambers and other private sector observers has been surprisingly positive. Some of the duties and sales tax removed or reduced may in fact be reflective of the post-Dar “revisionist” thinking of P.M. Abbasi. The “reductions” can be seen as a trap for the next elected government, who will tinker with these concessions at the risk of losing support in crucial sectors of the economy. Given the economic rejectionism embraced by the opposition, the making of the post-election, likely “punitive,” budget will be a tough undertaking.

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