Politics of numbers

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With parliament going into budget session this week, the government and the opposition are preparing for some intense economic sabre-rattling in the coming weeks. Recent days have seen this sparring intensify in the wake of the government’s announcement that it has attained a GDP growth rate of 3.9pc. The claim is hotly disputed by the opposition and has triggered a debate among economists and financial commentators because it has upended previous growth rate estimates by the State Bank as well as international financial institutions. While a consensus on this surprising growth rate may wait a while, the government has wasted no time in advertising it as evidence that the economic turnaround has indeed commenced. From Prime Minister Imran Khan downwards, all officials and spokespersons are reinforcing the significance of this figure and claiming an even higher growth rate for the next year.
To counter this hype, the PML-N has launched its own economic offensive aimed at puncturing the government’s feel-good moment. At a pre-budget seminar last week, the party’s leadership provided a different data-based context to the state of the economy and how it compared poorly to the years that the PML-N was in power. These senior leaders used official data to show how inflation had skyrocketed, growth had stagnated, exports had barely moved up despite massive devaluation, tax revenues had shown negligible improvement, the tax-to-GDP ratio had gone down and poverty in real numbers had increased significantly. They argued that the PTI was being economical with the truth and using numbers and data without putting them in the larger context. This debate is now expected to go into higher gear as parliament becomes the focal point for the budget deliberations at a time when the government is promising more money for public-sector development and an emphasis on growth. Added to this mix is the political aspect of the economy in the larger context of the PTI’s performance since the party took office in August 2018. The budget debate will enable the treasury and opposition benches to argue their case for and against the government’s performance with actual hard data. It is an important debate at this juncture when figures tell a story that many believe is not translating into relief for Pakistani households. Those parliamentarians who can do their homework well, and who can arm themselves with credible and verifiable data to tell a convincing and digestible story will certainly be in a position to mould opinion and sway thinking.

favour of resolving the Kashmir imbroglio.