The risks of populist pledges

With just over two weeks left for poll day, the campaign period is heating up.

Groups of villagers, yet to fully comprehend the implications of their votes are lured by various pledges, as the two presidents trot along the countryside. Some are confused while some are excited with the two political parties painting a rosy picture of the next five years under their governance. The promises of uninterrupted irrigation water to salary revision to vehicle quotas appeal to the voters. In the villages, promises of freebies, even if it is worth Nu 10, are much talked. Many are convinced and do not question.

In the game of politics, political parties will pursue a populist policy. Therefore, the discussion today is about which party is pledging what. Candidates questioning each other’s pledges dominate the “debates”.

The manifestos of both the political parties have more than what people are hearing. The long-term plan, their visions and strategies are elaborated in the manifestos. What is missing is these are not explained to the people. For instance, both parties feel the need to review taxation policy to plug loopholes for revenue leakages to “progress with equity” and “narrow the gap”. Subsidies and tax breaks appeal to the voters, but the implications are huge even to them, as they will have to raise money to fulfil those pledges.

Our politicians are aware of the implications of their pledges. The vehicle quota, a popular pledge now for both the parties, is not what a government would want to do. A reasoned pledge would be considerate to its implications. A problem today, even as our future government and opposition drives around, is the traffic congestion, the pollution and the lack of cheap, reliable and efficient transport system. The vehicle quota system, some studies had shown is encouraging people to buy and buy more. It is one of the reasons for more cars on our roads.

Political parties are contradicting themselves by promising a revised vehicle quota for civil servants or quota to buy the first car for all families. They want to explore cable cars and mono rails, yet entice voters with quota to buy cars. Such pledges will bring votes, but not solution to our growing pains.

What we need today is bold decisions. On the vehicle issue, we need to impose heavier taxes to curb buying, not quotas. Even without quota, about 20 cars are added on an average every day. Our roads and space cannot keep up with the growing number of cars. Ironically, long after this was recognised, only 185 passengers buses were added to our routes in seven years when the number of other cars tripled or quadrupled.

The new government will be pressurised once they are elected on their pledges. There will be no going back and it will effect their vision of not doing what is popular or reducing the gap between the rich and poor.

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