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Devolved Democracy Denied

The Supreme Court of Pakistan, in a verdict issued in April, directed the provincial governments to announce the timetable for local bodies’ polls. Four years ago local governments had been unceremoniously closed down by the provincial administrations. Since then there has been a lack of grass-roots democracy for the Pakistanis, which ironically is being denied to them by the very democratic parties they put in power.

This democratic set-up has been in place for well over four years now and there are no imminent signs of local bodies elections being constituted. For once the monkey is off the back of the federal government as the buck this time around stops at the provinces.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan, in a verdict issued in April, directed the provincial governments to announce the timetable for LB polls. Four years ago local governments had been unceremoniously closed down by the provincial administrations. Since then there has been a lack of grass-roots democracy for Pakistanis, which ironically is being denied to them by the very democratic parties they put in power.

Punjab, which has a larger population than rest of the country put together, is under the administrative control of the PML-N since 2008. A party which has been out of power in the centre for 13 years and desperately wants to make a comeback while making sure that their base of power in Punjab remains intact.

Punjab, which has a larger population than rest of the country put together, is under the administrative control of the PML-N since 2008. A party which has been out of power in the centre for 13 years and desperately wants to make a comeback while making sure that their base of power in Punjab remains intact. For all their dismissiveness and claims to the contrary the fact remains that Imran Khan and his PTI have emerged as a political reality and now pose a tangible threat to PML-N in Punjab.

The statistics as revealed through surveys about popularity of political parties among the masses are, at this moment not a searing headache for the incumbents but they are not willing to put those to the test in a LB showoff. As if it was hard enough struggling to keep vote banks in the central Punjab, down in the south the calls for a Seraiki province have gathered momentum, a demand given voice by local leaders and the federal government. It would not be in their political interest and could be quite damaging but the question is should they not consider public interest over their own?

After all as the leading opposition party in  the parliament they have been taking the high moral ground and condemning the federal government over lack of principles and well rightly so. However, it is their turn to show that they are any different when it comes to a conflict between party and public interest. Were the PML-N to take this courageous step it would send the right message and remove any misgivings regarding their widely perceived sense of insecurity. Also any insistence that LB elections be held on a non-party basis should be immediately retracted as nothing shows more fear than a political party not wanting to participate under the party banner. Also if elections were indeed contested on a non-party basis the very worst of politics will be on view. Horse-trading and under hand deals will be made as a rule. The allegiance of the LB representatives can be most conveniently acquired as their funding is after all controlled by the provincial government. Without prior party affiliation the LB representatives would not even have moral restrictions in joining the camp where the money is. What’s more they wouldn’t even be called turncoats.

Just like the PML-N in Punjab, the PPP Sindh government has been wary of upsetting the status quo albeit for slightly different reasons. Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan and its financial hub, the provincial capital of Sindh is dominated by the MQM. In the LB polls it is likely that while the PPP would be able to take the majority of representatives in Sindh, Karachi itself and its city government could probably go to the MQM. Why would the PPP be willing to give away some of their power in Karachi as the MQM is already held passive and tacitly content being coalition partners and having a handful of cabinet portfolios.  However, now Nisar Khoro, the speaker of Sindh provincial assembly, claims that their government in fact going to announce the schedule for the LB elections as soon as the electoral rolls are completed. If that turns out to be true, the people of Sindh would find some solace indeed.
Were the PML-N to take this courageous step it would send the right message and remove any misgivings regarding their widely perceived sense of insecurity.
Over in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa the provincial assembly has already passed the KPK Local Government Bill, 2012. Bashir Bilour the senior minister who also has the ministry for local bodies and who tabled the said bill stated that changes have been made in the original local bodies’ ordinance of 2001 which the new bill has replaced. All parties in the KPK assembly have reached consensus over the new bill reflected in that they were able to get it passed in a unanimous vote. The LB elections are due to be held there in October, which would mean a lot to the people in KPK particularly those belonging to the Hazara division, as their sense of marginalisation following the renaming of the province would get diminished to an extent. Also the indigenous demand for a Hazara province could be streamlined and seen if it has support to become a political movement going up to the general elections.

In Balochistan local body elections are of the utmost importance for the Baloch people as their sense of deprivation and disconnect from the government is at an all-time high. The unrest which continues in Balochistan calls for greater political activity in Balochistan as they will have a platform at the grass-roots level to convey their grievances. Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudry,  himself from Balochistan,  observed, ‘there is a huge gap between the people and the government, the elections will empower the people.’ Justice Chaudhry further said that the government of Balochistan should hold elections despite the problems it faces, because ‘this will help the province to restore peace in the region.’

By: Syed Zamin Raza

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