The government has dropped two bombs on its citizens – one in the shape of fuel prices and the other through a clear indication that elections might not be held on time. What are their reactions – nothing other than despair? The government had been kind enough not to raise petrol price during the last couple of months – in fact had reduced it to a certain extent. But the latest hike of around Rs20 was nothing more than a shocker. Normally, the new petrol price is announced by midnight every fortnight but this time around the finance minister kept on sitting on it late after midnight.
During his address to the nation, Ishaq Dar said he and the OGRA officials were trying to find a way to make as little an increase as possible but failed to do so. Various traders’ associations have criticised the latest hike in petrol price, terming it disastrous for their businesses. Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry as well as other traders’ bodies have rejected the increase, saying it would lead to further inflation.
The country is already in the grip of record inflation, burdened with high electricity and gas tariff. Traders have threatened to stage protests if the notification is not withdrawn. They fear that business activity would slow down due to high cost of commodities. The finance minister has said that the government has taken the decision on account of high petrol price in the international market and according to conditions set by the International Monetary Fund. No political party is supporting the PML-N in this. Even its coalition partners have dissociated themselves from the decision, with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) fearing it would have political repercussions in the general elections – whenever they are held that is.
The PPP claimed that the allied parties were not consulted in the decision. On the other hand, elections that were scheduled to be held either in October or November appear to face a delay after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced that the polls would be held as per the 2023 census. The census has not been notified and the Election Commission of Pakistan has still not demarcated the constituencies as per the new census. This entire exercise requires ample time and therefore the maximum three month tenure of the interim government would not be enough for it. Under these circumstances, elections as per schedule seem to be a far cry unless the ECP is swift enough to complete the demarcation with the given timeframe. Overall and all, the next few years appear to be tough. Where the country is headed no one is sure, but it’s not smooth sailing both economically and politically.