Malik Nasir Mahmood Aslam casts a glance at a perennial difficulty
As if the prevailing problems of governance were not enough then the latest issue of holding highly Contentious Local Bodies polls in Sindh was thrown into the arena. Everyone is aware that the third tier of governance in the country is a bone of contention between the political elements and the forces of status quo and is discouraged by the former and encouraged by the latter. Despite intense feelings about the matter holding the LB elections in the most contentious of locales is indeed inexplicable. Interestingly the issue was lying dormant but it was suddenly brought to the fore in a manner that surprised many saner circles of the country. As is often the case with such divisive actions, the LB elections in the urban areas of Sindh succeeded in causing intense friction within the political circles and may harm the political process in the days to come.
Despite the odd timing of the LB elections there is hardly any doubt that they were long overdue and holding them was tantamount to depriving people from getting their local issues resolved. The second phase of local government elections in Sindh has been postponed twice already. The term of the local governments had expired on 30 August, 2020 and the ECP was bound to hold elections within 120 days of this. The electoral exercise was originally scheduled for 24 July but was postponed due to the unprecedented monsoon rains and flash flooding that inundated large parts of the province. The ECP later rescheduled the LG polls for 28 August but they were deferred again due to the flood situation and a shortage of police personnel in Karachi.
The security concerns were paramount in this respect and the federal ministry of Interior issued a notification authorising the static deployment of Frontier Constabulary troops outside all highly sensitive and sensitive polling stations in addition to already approved deployment of other forces. It also said the exact number of troops, date and area of deployment will be worked out by the ECP and other stakeholders in consultation with the FC authorities on the basis of on-ground requirements.
To be fair, there was no reason to place obstacles in the way of LB elections as people are required to exercise their constitutional right to elect their local representatives. The hurdles are the obvious result of not amending inadequate local government law along with addressing unjust delimitations that are widely contested. However, there do exist genuine concerns about delimitations and the contending parties have every right to boycott the election process if they feel it is not fair but it was not prudent to forcefully stop millions of citizens choosing their local representatives and this what MQM ultimately decided and this decision may augur well.
In this context the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) took the bold step to refuse delaying the polls despite the high drama of few days during which it came under severe pressure to postpone them. In this respect in the earlier stages, the most intense pressure was applied by the recently united factions of MQM that protested against faulty delimitations. In fact the provincial government did announce that the long-awaited local body elections would not be held and the notification to hold the polls based on the existing delimitation had also been withdrawn on the demand of their coalition partner the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P). The Sindh government obliged MQM, its coalition partner, by approaching the ECP to delay the polls but the ECP asserted that the polls would go ahead as planned, while asking the federation to deploy army and Rangers’ personnel to provide security to sensitive polling stations.
To conclude the second phase, LB polls were accordingly held primarily in urban Sindh, including Karachi, Hyderabad and a few other districts. The polling process was largely peaceful, though marked by low turnout, for which various reasons played their part. The results of the elections showed the PPP to, quite surprisingly, emerge as the largest party in Karachi and Hyderabad with Jamaat-i-Islami, running a close second. Though MQM has boycotted the elections but it tacitly acknowledged holding the polls and did not contest them in any shape and form. It remains to be seen what is going to happen in the next stage as the going pattern is to elect to office new mayors but the problem in this respect is such mayors remain figureheads as all municipal powers continue to be concentrated in the provincial government rendering the LG polls largely be a cosmetic exercise. Water and sewerage, solid waste, planning and building control, among other functions, must all be overseen by an elected mayor but such powers are curtailed by the provincial governments and this may become a source of running battle between the LB tier and provincial government. TW