Pakistani Voters are Concerned about Economy

    April 25, 2013

    From VOA Learning English, this is the Economics Report.

    Pakistan is preparing for national elections next month, many likely voters seem more concerned about the economy than stopping militant violence.

    But few Pakistanis are hopeful for changes. Zafar Saeed directs an occupational training centre in Islamabad, the capital. For the past ten years, the centre has trained thousands for work in an increasingly difficult economy. Now his own business is struggling from power cuts and inflation, he blames the government for the situation.

    "Our organization has suffered major financial losses, particularly over the past five years, because prolonged power outages have not allowed us to perform our activities. The other main reason is inflation because people can no longer afford to pay for their fees to learn income-generating skills.”

    Many people share his opinion. Street protests against power cuts are common in Pakistan. Some cuts can now last all day long.

    Ashfaque Hassan Khan is a professor at the Nast Business School in Islamabad.

    "We are facing economic challenges and the reason for this is that for five years the economy has never been on the radar of the government.”

    He also says part of the problem has been too little political will to fix the national tax system. Less than one percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people pay income taxes. About 70 percent of federal lawmakers did not complete any income tax documents last year, most of them are likely to be returned to parliament in the elections.

    As professor Khan notes, that makes it more difficult to ask the country's major donors for help.

    "There is a genuine complaint from [the] international community because their taxpayers have started raising questions that 'why should our government give our taxpayer money to Pakistan when [the] Pakistani government doesn’t tax their own rich and influential people?'”

    60 percent of the Pakistani population is under the age of 25. Recent opinion surveys show most young people are concerned about unemployment, power shortages, and corruption.

    Maleeha Lodhi is a former ambassador to the United States. She says young people have grown less hopeful about the future.

    "So, the message to Pakistan’s next government is a very strong one. And that message is deal with the economy otherwise young people will opt out of the system and when young people opt out of the system and lose faith then frankly, the future prospects for any country begin to look very bleak."

    To build support among young voters, some political parties are promising to reduce unemployment, and fight corruption. However, opinion surveys have shown low ratings for politicians, this is why voters like Zafar Saeed are wondering whether the next government will be any different from the last one.