Slow business and rains dampen Pakistan’s Independence Day celebrations

Updated 13 August 2019

Slow business and rains dampen Pakistan’s Independence Day celebrations

  • Eid Al-Adha holiday and torrential rains have put a damper on business mood
  • Imports of flags, buntings and other items have declined due to higher duties

KARACHI: Pakistanis, gearing up to celebrate the nation’s 72 Independence Day on August 14, are finding it difficult to match the zeal and fervor of previous years.

In addition to torrential rains, traders say, the Eid Al-Adha holiday lull has cast a damper on the business mood in Karachi, the country’s commercial hub and the capital of Sindh province.

Pakistan came into existence on Aug. 14, 1947, following the partition of India as the British colonial rulers were preparing to leave the subcontinent. This Independence Day, Pakistan is also observing a “national day of solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”

Laxman Das, a vendor in Karachi, prepares for the upcoming celebrations. (AN photo)

Each year around this time, a bump in patriotic sentiment translates into brisk sales of national flags, badges, hats, toys and special dresses among other things.

“This year business is down by almost 50 percent,” Abdullah Abdul Habib, a wholesale trader in Karachi’s paper market, told Arab News on Tuesday.

“The rains in the port city of Karachi, which supplies goods to other part of the country, have disrupted business activities. The fact that the Eid Al-Adha holiday has coincided with the Independence Day week affected sentiments adversely.”

Pakistan meets between 75 and 80 percent of seasonal demand through imports from neighboring China. This year the federal government’s measures to restrict imports in order to keep the “balance of payments” situation under control have led to a reduction in the imports of flags and related items.

“The curbs on imports this year were a major constraint. What we are selling is the leftover stock of the previous year,” Habib said.

“Due to duties and taxes, imported goods have become almost 40 percent costlier than last year.”

The traders said that flags and badges cost a minimum of 10 rupees ($0.06) this year, and that prices varied depending on the size of the items. Traditionally, kiosks and temporary stalls mushroom in cities and towns across Pakistan as traders attempt to cash in on Independence Day spending.

Muhammad Shoaib, a trader who usually sets up a kiosk in the old city area of Karachi, says the business slowdown is palpable. “Last year business was very good, but this year it is very slow because of bad weather conditions,” he told Arab News.

A number of businessmen also complained about rising prices, blaming the government and the prime minister, former cricketer Imran Khan, for inflation levels reaching over 10.3 percent in July.

“We are surviving but it is not as good as it was last year. Taxes have been imposed by Imran Khan’s government. The poor people who earn a daily wage are heavily affected,” Sarfarz Ahmed, a hawker, said.

“People are still coming for shopping, and we will celebrate Independence Day as usual.”

His views were echoed by another hawker, Shaam Lal, who was trying to sell green bangles to girls. “Last year business was very good. I need my income to support my family. We enjoyed Independence Day,” he told Arab News.

 Children sift through badges and buntings to buy goods of their choice for Independence Day celebrations. (AN photo)

“But this year we are worried about our children’s well-being.”

Among the hawkers selling patriotic souvenirs in Karachi’s old city area was Laxman Das. A newcomer to the business, he said his “toy horns for children were much in demand.”

Ali Zaib, a vendor, was happy he had succeeded in selling almost his entire stock of Independence Day knickknacks. “Business is very good,” he said. “I have sold almost all the shirts and flags that I had in stock. People are celebrating August 14.”

Yasir Ali, a teacher, said: “I have come with my children as they wanted to buy flags and badges for Independence Day.”

A girl celebrates Pakistani Independence Day in Islamabad. (AN photo)

He said that, for his children, toys painted with the national flag were a major attraction.

Zafar Iqbal, a resident of Lahore, said Pakistanis like him were also buying flags of Kashmir along with Pakistani flags this year. “We are with Kashmir, and support their struggle for freedom,” he said.

Last week India’s parliament approved by a large majority a controversial decision by the federal government to revoke Article 370, a constitutional provision that granted the Muslim-majority region special status.

Indian-administered Kashmir has been on lockdown since, with phone networks and the internet cut off and tens of thousands of troops patrolling the streets.


Finland’s new young female prime minister breaks the mold

Updated 09 December 2019

Finland’s new young female prime minister breaks the mold

  • Sanna Marin will be Finland’s third female government leader
  • Women have been present in politics in the Nordic region for decades and today represent half of the party leaders in Sweden

COPENHAGEN: Finland’s next government is breaking the mold in multiple ways.
Sanna Marin, the 34-year-old transport minister, was tapped over the weekend by the ruling Social Democratic Party to be Finland’s new prime minister. When she takes the reins of the country, most likely on Tuesday, she will become the world’s youngest sitting head of government.
In another unusual development, Marin will head a coalition with four other parties that are all led by women — three of whom are in their early 30s. Her own biography also breaks the mold: Raised by a single mother, she has described feeling discriminated against in Finland when her mother was in a relationship with another woman.
Elina Penttinen, a lecturer in gender studies at the University of Helsinski, said the rise of so many women is “exceptional” not only by the standards of the wider world, where older men hold most power, but even by the standards of Finland, which regularly ranks as one of the best countries in the world for gender equality.
“Here it seems pretty amazing, too,” she said.
The Social Democrats emerged as the strongest party after Finland’s election in April. Antti Rinne, the incumbent prime minister whom Marin is replacing, stepped down last week amid political turmoil caused by a strike of postal workers. Rinne says he plans to continue as the Social Democrats’ leader until a party congress next summer.
Penttinen described Marin as a talented politician known for her leadership skills whose progressive program stresses combating climate change, protecting thecountry’s famous social protections like health care and reaching out to young people.
Finland, like much of the West, has seen a rise in right-wing populists and the nationalist Finns Party did well in April election, though centrist and left-wing parties won most votes and together could govern in the multi-party coalition.
“I hope it’s a sign of more change to come against populists, especially in the age of Trump and populism,” Penttinen said.
A tweet by a journalist for Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat with photos of the quintet drew attention online by visually underscoring the idea of rising female power in politics.
Marin will become the youngest-serving leader of a government in the world, beating out Ukraine’s 35-year-old prime minister, Oleksiy Honcharuk. She might not hold that title for long, however. Sebastian Kurz, the 33-year-old former Austrian chancellor who rose to that position when he was 31, won an election in September and is in talks to form a new governing coalition that would put him back in the job.
Marin joins a small group of female leaders who have sought to counteract the rise of populism. That group includes Slovakian President Zuzana Caputova, 46, a progressive whose election this year bucked the trend of populism and nationalism in Central Europe.
And like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern — who is 39 — Marin is a new mother, having given birth to a daughter last year.
A lawmaker since 2015, Marin is the party’s vice chairwoman and was minister for transport and communications in the outgoing government.
Lawmakers are likely to approve the new government this week so Marin can represent Finland at a summit of European Union leaders in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. Finland holds the EU’s rotating presidency until the end of the year.
Beside Marin, the coalition’s other party leaders are 32-year-old Katri Kulmuni of the Center Party; the Left Alliance’s Li Andersson, 32; Maria Ohisalo, the 34-year-old leader of the Greens; and the head of the Swedish People’s Party, Anna-Maja Henriksson, who at 55 is the oldest.
The coalition will have a comfortable majority of 117 seats in the 200-seat Eduskunta, or Parliament.
The Center Party announced Monday that Kulmuni will be the finance minister in the new government.
Marin will be Finland’s third female government leader. Women have been present in politics in the Nordic region for decades and today represent half of the party leaders in Sweden. Four of Denmark’s nine parties are headed by women.
Mette Frederiksen became Denmark’s prime minister in June, while Erna Solberg has been Norway’s head of government since 2013.
Iceland’s Vigdis Finnbogadottir was the first woman to be democratically elected as head of state by voters when she defeated three men for the presidency in 1980.