SIDELINED and ignored for reasons of political expediency, local government elections are suddenly being discussed. Coalition partners PPP and MQM failing to agree on the structure of the civic government is merely one aspect of it; the larger and more baffling issue is the sudden interest of the PPP-led government at the centre and in Sindh in what obviously would be snap elections. Elected on the basis of the structure crafted and legalised by the Musharraf government, local governments in the country completed their term on Dec 31, 2009. Since then, despite the Supreme Court’s directive last April, no provincial government has shown an interest in local government elections for reasons that vary. Apprehensions that a given party could make a bad showing, and that this in turn could affect the outcome of the general election, discouraged some provincial governments from going for polls. Now things seem to be changing for motives that are again not very clear.
There have been contradictory signals from the presidential camp. In his meetings in Karachi with PPP parliamentarians, President Asif Ali Zardari, according to some wire agencies, “announced” on Sunday that elections to the local bodies in Sindh would be held before the country went to the polls. The same day, the presidential spokesman in Islamabad denied that the president had asked the Sindh administration to prepare for such elections “immediately”. An LG election is not possible, because the new legal framework in which such polls would be held is not ready. As Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah told the president, the bipartisan “core committee” tasked to draft the bill has not completed its task because of differences between the two coalition partners. In fact, according to party sources, the MQM has decided to discontinue talks on the structure of local government.
Would common sense suggest an LG election at this stage? For nearly three years, the federal and provincial governments have not bothered to pay attention to what throughout the world is considered a pillar of democracy. Now, with a general election just months away, talk about holding LG polls would only serve to sow chaos and perhaps make the Election Commission’s job difficult by diversifying its attention and work. More importantly, a national consensus has developed on the general election, and most political parties have already begun to campaign. An LG election announcement would be a bolt from the blue and cause misgivings about the PPP leadership’s motive. The best course would be to hold civic, municipal and district polls immediately after the general election. The LG election has already been delayed; let us not rush into it for reasons that make no political sense.