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Who is Afraid of Local Bodies’ Polls?

Whether or not the PTI and PPP like it, the constitutionally mandated local government elections are coming sooner rather than later.

Our governments whether in the center or provinces always appear reluctant to hold local bodies’ elections for reasons of control. A different party surfacing winner in local bodies means sharing administrative and financial powers – something no government is prepared to do.

The last local government elections were held in the country at the intervention of Supreme Court of Pakistan. However, unfortunately, in parts of the country, the elected local governments were sent packing by the respective governments before completing their stipulated term, whilst in other pats, they remained non-functional.

Whilst the cantonment board elections have recently been conducted, the federal and provincial governments are dragging their feet on the local government elections in their respective territories on one pretext or another.

In Balochistan, the local bodies completed their term way back in January 2019. Whilst almost one year has passed since the expiration of term of local bodies both in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces. In the federal capital, the term of local bodies completed in February this year.

Under Article 140(A) and Section (4) 219 of the Election Act 2017, the election commission is bound to hold the elections within 120 days. Hence, the not conducting the elections within the given timeframe is a clear violation of the Constitution.

The Sindh government during meetings with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is expressing its reservations on the 2017 census results. Appearing before the Election Commission of Pakistan recently, Karachi Administrator Murtaza Wahab once again reiterated the PPP’s position that the population of both Sindh and Balochistan was understated in the census.

Using this as a pretext, Sindh has so far withheld from the ECP the details of the number of union councils, maps, and other data. Now this information is a perquisite for the conduct of local government elections, without which the process of delimitation of constituencies cannot commence.

The Balochistan government is also not cooperating with the ECP to go ahead with the demarcation of constituencies.

Contrary to the tall claims by Prime Minister Imran Khan to bring revolutionary local government system in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one does not see the local bodies’ elections taking place in the near future. In particular, the local bodies’ elections in Punjab are surrounded by sheer uncertainty.

The provincial government had dissolved the local bodies’ structure after enacting the Punjab Local Government Act 2019. The old local bodies’ representatives approached the Supreme Court and the apex court eventually restored the local bodies, declaring their dissolution unconstitutional.

The Punjab government went into the review appeal, stating that it would be very difficult to restore the old local government institutions as the process involved massive administrative and financial complexities.

The apex court’s is yet to decide on the review petition whilst the term of local bodies in Punjab is ending on 31 December 2021.

As for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where the process of delimitation has been completed,

a local government bill is gathering dust in the provincial assembly as regardless of presenting it on the agenda of the assembly, it is not being taken up for approval. The bill provides for holding the LG polls in two phases. The provincial government wants to hold the polls in the merged tribal districts separately.

After the cantonment elections, these local government elections will be a major test of popularity of the political parties amongst the masses – a test the PTI and the PPP would rather sit out given their performance.

The people at large in Karachi are not happy with the performance of PPP government, as little has been done to address their chronic issues relating to water, sanitation and sewerage.

Similarly, the PTI is faced with the issue of price hike of essential commodities, which has badly dented its popularity. The same was visible in the results of recently held Punjab cantonment board elections where the PML (N) trounced the ruling party.

According to the political pundits, the two parties do not want to face embarrassment at a time with two years left in the next general elections.

However, given the fact that the ECP is seized with the matter, one may expect early LG polls or at least a cutoff date for the conduct of the polls whether the provincial governments like it or not. Reserving judgment earlier this month on a case about local bodies’ elections in Sindh, a three-member bench of the ECP headed by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja had made it clear that it is ruling will apply to all provinces.

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