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Imran’s image on business landscape

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By Afshan Subohi

The attendance of educated youth in Lahore meeting of Imran Khan is seen generally to reflect their distrust of the mainstream politics. The goodwill for Tehreek-i-Insaf in a segment of the business community can be explained probably by its concern about the future amid economic difficulties.

While it is too early to reach any conclusion, the support in elite class for the former cricketer skipper seems to have been generated more by the perceived patrons rather than his own credentials.

Imran Khan’s sudden surge in popularity has yet to pass the test of ballot box but it cannot be denied that Lahore rally did launch him on the country’s political landscape. The frontline leaders of business and trade, when contacted, were cautious in their comments. Many were inquisitive, some favoured him indirectly, wrapping, as usual, their support in national interest while others saw him as a relic of the past.

“Educated youth, hit by unemployment and inspired by ‘Arab spring’ and ‘Occupy Wall Street’ yearns for a just society. It must not surprise anyone if they tilt towards Imran Khan for nothing but a change,” an analyst commented.

“The private sector, though not a monolithic entity, overwhelmingly wants change and a return to the past. They prefer Shaukat Aziz and his likes anytime over PPP and PLM(N) leaders. The big business trusts the choice of establishment unlike leaders thrown up by people through electoral process.”

“Their experience taught them that no one serves them better than dictators and their nominees. They talk about corruption and inefficiency with no end but all they want is to be given preference over others and totally free space to multiply wealth the way they want,” he added.

Many businessmen are inspired by such role models as the take-over by technocrats in the crisis-hit Greece and Italy, with politicians getting a back seat. The preference is for market democracy. The elite has lost its charm for representative democracy.

In Karachi there were reports of fund raising by the private sector for Imran Khan. Mian Abrar Ahmad, president Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry was not aware of any such activity. In Punjab some senior economic journalists impressed by the huge Lahore rally saw a gathering storm ready to submerge both PPP and PML(N) in the next elections.

“Imran Khan is all over the media but I have not seen him being discussed in the business circles so far. Our trade demands of us to be neutral towards politicians. We need to work with whoever is installed in Islamabad, so we like to keep our distance”, he said, commenting on Imran Khan’s future.

In Pakistan, like in many other countries elections are an expensive affair. However, with a severely cash-strapped government and an active media, the chances of grabbing much of public money are thin. The sitting MNAs and MPAs are likely to focus more on state-supported development schemes in their constituencies.

The banks have been used in the past to raise funds for the political parties. Now most banks are in private hands. It would not be easy for the government or politicians to secure money from them.

Many politicians may try to get support from business tycoons to line up resources needed to finance next elections.

“A national assembly seat is a Rs30 million proposition and provincial candidates need at least Rs10 million to put up a decent fight. It is simple multiplication beyond that to give an idea of budget of a national political party aspiring to form government.”

“Everyone cannot spare that kind of money. Be it image building or developing a winning team, money is required at every step. The fund collected through voluntary donations is itself a political activity for mobilisation and raising the level of commitment of supporters,” a businessman who joined PML(N) some time back told this scribe in confidence.

“The spending by all candidates in last elections, according to one estimate, was Rs200 billion. The 2013 election would cost double the amount not only because of inflation but also owing to close fights in many constituencies. I have no doubt that even in the past big chunks of election funds came from liquid corporates. If you ask me money transfers have already started for elections 2013,” another business leader commented.

All political parties have personal relations with their supporters in the business community. However, institutional framework is lacking to raise resources to fund elections.

“The businessmen are divided over political parties. There are few who individually support PPP, PML/N, JI, MQM or others but collectively and generally we like to keep to sidelines”, a business leader from Islamabad told Dawn over phone.

“Yes, we know he was an ace cricketer who earned us the World cup. He is a successful philanthropist. The establishment of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital was a very challenging endeavour. However he has yet to prove his mettle as an able politician and a pragmatic economic manager to let people take him seriously,” a senior leader of the business community commented.

“Some powers are pushing him to the centre stage but he does not fit in the country’s power structure. No one can go far politically without Senate support. He has no one there. At best he will bag 20 seats,” Chaudhry M. Saeed, ex-president FPCCI, told this scribe over phone from Mirpur Kashmir.

“Earlier on, the people who did not want to vote for PPP and MQM voted for Jamat-e-Islami. In the coming elections many amongst JI supporters are going to vote for Imran,” Majyd Aziz said.

“The business community has a very simple philosophy. Our job is to contribute to the economy and we would like to do that. Practical politics is not our cup of tea. There are host of examples where businesses went bankrupt as their proprietors indulged in politics. Actually the situation is challenging and middle management is weak. Yes, the business community should develop think tanks to give quality input in economic policy making”, Gohar Eijaz, ex-chairman Aptma, told Dawn.


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