Confused political preferences
PILDAT’s recent report on governance in Pakistan at the provincial and federal levels reaches some interesting conclusions. Out of a pool of over 3,000 respondents the respective provincial respondents concluded that out of 28 indicators of the quality of governance KP was first with 18 positive ratings (around 64pc) which is good. Punjab came second with only eight positive ratings (around 44pc) which is not good. Almost two-thirds of the respondents of KP generally approved the quality of governance in their province while less than half of the respondents of Punjab thought similarly about the quality of governance in their province.
Balochistan and Sindh each received positive ratings on only two indicators from respondents of their provinces which comes to around 11pc each which is disgraceful. Roughly 90pc of the respondents from these provinces disapproved of the quality of governance they endured. That equates to “hostile governance”.
The federal government obtained only six approval ratings out of 30 governance indicators — a mere 20pc from respondents from all provinces. This score would be a political death sentence in any genuinely democratic country. But it is obviously not so in Pakistan which measures the lack of free, informed and rational choice available to the electorate. This underlines the bogus character of “democracy” in Pakistan.
Public opinion can be capricious and inconsistent as a report on governance shows.
Interestingly, on a national perception basis Punjab obtains the highest approval rating of 76pc while KP only gets half of that at 38pc! While the respondents of Punjab do not have a high opinion of the governance in their province the country as a whole seems to have a much higher rating of the governance Punjab is receiving. Similarly, the respondents of KP itself gave a 64pc positive indicator rating of provincial governance, but only 38pc of the country felt KP was getting good governance.
This appears absurd, even though there is a difference between the percentage of indicators and the percentage of respondents. Conceivably, Punjab’s negative perception of governance in KP might bring down the national approval ratings for KP although one would assume that Punjabi opinion about governance in KP would be influenced by positive public perceptions in KP itself. It is even more surprising to learn that Punjab’s low rating of its own provincial governance is significantly boosted at the national perception level despite Punjab’s overwhelming weightage in national surveys.
The report suggests that these apparent contradictions are partially explained by Imran Khan’s wayward politics including his extended dharna in the capital and his agitational style of politics including continuous accusations, boycotts and protests. It may be objected that if this were the case, his party’s governance ratings in KP would have been the first to suffer which seems not to be the case. So, is Punjab’s opposition to Imran Khan and the PTI the reason for its low rating of governance in KP? If so, how would that explain Punjab helping to boost its governance rating at the national level by 30 points over its own rating at the provincial level?
Similarly, despite 90pc negative indicator ratings by the respondents of Balochistan and Sindh regarding governance in their respective provinces, the national approval ratings of governance in these two provinces are three times better than their own ratings. It would appear Punjab chooses to boost the self-ratings of governance in Balochistan and Sindh while degrading the self-rating of governance in KP! What could be the explanation? Punjab wiped out the PPP in the last general elections, so why would it reverse the low opinion in Sindh of its own provincial governance? Maybe military action in Karachi played a part.
Similarly, Balochistan is effectively ruled by the military so Punjab probably looks at governance there through military lenses rather than take account of Balochistan’s own opinion. This apparently whimsical and self-centred nature of Punjabi political opinion is possibly explained by traditional passivity, arrogant parochialism, feudal mentalities and structures even in urban environments, and distorted narratives which inhibit rational assessments and longer-term perspectives.
The approval ratings of the prime minister and chief ministers are said to follow national assessments of provincial and federal governance. Once again if the national and provincial respondents come from the same pool of respondents and are representative of public opinion then the poor scores of governance indicators in Punjab and of the federal government should be reflected in the national rating of their leaders. But this is not the case. The prime minister and his brother the chief minister of Punjab are rated as the two most popular leaders despite the poor approval ratings of their governance.
This suggests public opinion is exceedingly capricious and inconsistent. Once again, the lack of real freedom of choice, education and voter confidence; the strength of biradari or social community; the sway of social superiors and political parties including their spending power; and administrative malfeasance seem to account for such incoherence of preferences.
The federal government receives positive ratings on education, healthcare and national security. It receives poor evaluations on poverty reduction, unemployment, transparency, anti-corruption, tax collection, quality of administration, merit-based appointments, honest procurement, disaster management, devolution and inflation. The positive ratings on education and healthcare appear to be at odds with informed opinion. At the provincial level, the situation in Punjab and KP seems marginally better and in Sindh and Balochistan much worse.
According to the report, the armed forces are easily the most popular national institution with a 75pc approval. None of the other institutions even approach 50pc approval. Similarly, the Ministry of Defence — a fief of the military — is the only ministry to obtain a 50pc rating.
Pildat by reflecting this confusion of opinion about governance in Pakistan has done a service in indicating the structural and perceptual barriers to political coherence in Pakistan. A strategy to address this situation is needed. Only the military can help initiate its implementation. If it chooses not to, the people will have to come to their own rescue.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.