CHAMAN: A woman casting her vote during Local Bodies Elections. INP PHOTO

Local bodies: two down, two to go

What lessons can we learn from Balochistan and KP local government elections, and what’s in store for Sindh and Punjab?
Published June 29, 2015

What lessons can we learn from the Balochistan and KP local government elections, and what’s in store for Sindh and Punjab?

Balochistan: Power delayed, power denied

Dr Abdul Malik Baloch’s government was the first to hold local bodies polls in the country ... but the process seems to have stopped in its tracks. What’s the hurdle?

By Syed Ali Shah

When Sardar Mustafa Tareen, Balochistan’s minister for local bodies, staged a silent walk-out from the budget session of the Balochistan Assembly, it was a protest born of deep frustration; partners of the ruling coalition appear to be in collective denial about devolving power to the newly-elected local bodies. There has been no talk of handing financial, legal or administrative control to the lowest tier of democracy. It is almost as if local government elections never happened in Balochistan.

But happen they did; local government elections were held in the province as early as Dec 7, 2013 — even though it happened on the directives of the Supreme Court.

The process could not be completed in one go, since the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), a key coalition partner in the Balochistan government, had moved the Balochistan High Court (BHC) over the matter of including professionals for reserved seats.

Source: Election Commission of Pakistan
Source: Election Commission of Pakistan

In the past only peasants, labourers and minorities qualified for these seats, but this time the government had included the criterion of professionals to the list. This addition was challenged in the BHC, which subsequently rejected the government’s move. In turn, the government challenged the BHC judgment in the Supreme Court.

The case delayed the completion of local government polls for more than a year, until the PkMAP decided to withdraw from the case. Elections thus concluded on Jan 28 this year, paving way for power to be devolved to the grassroots in Balochistan. In theory, at least.

Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch’s coalition government deemed the successful conclusion of polls as a boon; the provincial administration has not lost any opportunity to take credit for being the first provincial government to have successfully held local government elections in the country.

But beneath the surface, not everyone is on the same page. And certainly, not the provincial local government minister.

By walking out of the showpiece budget session, Sardar Tareen had displayed his annoyance at his colleagues for not having allocated substantial funds for local bodies. But in the financial budget for the year 2015-16, the provincial government has actually allocated 10 per cent of the total development budget for local bodies. Things don’t add up.

“These funds would be utilised by local bodies’ members,” asserts Mir Khalid Langove, the adviser to the Balochistan chief minister on finance. The government has allocated Rs54.505 billion for development under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP).

On the other hand, councillors still battle for their powers in Balochistan despite one-and-a-half years having elapsed since they won the elections. The newly-elected chairperson and vice-chair too battle for administrative, legal and financial powers after more than four months of being voted in.

The Mayor of Quetta, Dr Kaleemullah Khan, who belongs to the ruling PkMAP, leads the disenfranchised chairpersons, vice-chairs, and councillors. He says that that at the heart of the matter is the question of authority — who reports to whom.

“The Balochistan government refuses to accept our constitutional status,” says Dr Kaleemullah. “We are subservient to the bureaucracy.”

Provincial legislators appear to be on the same page in terms of practicing delaying tactics to avoid actually devolving powers to local bodies. The mayor of Quetta claims that apart from him, district chairpersons too cannot pass financial budgets or make any major financial decisions without the approval of the divisional coordination committees headed by the commissioner.

More than 7,000 councillors were elected from all 32 districts of Balochistan. Elections were held peacefully in comparison with the general elections, when legislators and their supporters in Quetta, Turbat, Khuzdar and other parts of Balochistan had been attacked.

Most of the newly elected chairpersons and vice-chairs belong to the ruling political parties, including PML-N, National Party and PkMAP. Instead of these associations working in their favour, political parties led by MNAs, senators and MPAs, still appear reluctant in devolving powers at the grassroots level to councillors.

The mayor of Quetta and other elected local bodies’ members have held a series of meetings with their respective parties as well as the chief minister, but till now, there has been no breakthrough.

Governance in Balochistan is as complex today as it has been in the past. Schools, hospitals and government offices portray a sorry state of affairs. There are more than 7,000 multi-grade, one-room, and one-teacher schools across Balochistan. Social indicators in the province are declining, and the populace is plagued by insurgency and violent attacks by Islamist militants for more than a decade now.

“Our prime objective is to build schools if we are given financial and administrative powers,” says the mayor of Quetta. “Empowering us means empowering the masses.”

“The job of the legislators is legislation, not development. Construction of roads, drains, etc. is our mandate and job,” argues Syed Sharaf Agha, the chairman of the Pishin Municipal Corporation.

The newly elected chairpersons and vice-chairs of municipal corporations and town committees have threatened to move the BHC to attain their powers and funds. Some of them have threatened to tender resignations in case their demands are not met. “We will go to every extent to secure our constitutional powers,” warns Dr Kaleemullah.

Sardar Tareen too has threatened to stage a protest demonstration outside the Balochistan Assembly building along with the newly elected leadership of different districts, in an attempt to press the government into allocating substantial funds for local bodies.

“We will not bow before the bureaucracy and we will continue our struggle for the success of the local bodies system,” asserts the local government minister.

All newly elected local bodies’ members, led by Dr Kaleemullah, met the other day to evolve a strategy to put pressure on the provincial government. They demanded of the Balochistan government to devolve administrative, financial and legal powers to local bodies under Article 141/A of the Constitution. “Neither do we have any resources nor any offices to work in,” says Syed Sharaf Agha.

It is expected that the issue of power division between MPAs, minister and local government representatives is likely to gain steam in the days to come, once Punjab and Sindh have also completed their local bodies’ polls. It is a tragedy of our times that military dictators have always empowered councillors to enjoy support at the grassroots level but weakened the parliament, while democratic governments have always been reluctant to empower people at the grassroots.

Sindh: Tangled legalities

Lawmakers opposing the local government bill stage a protest in the Sindh Assembly.
Lawmakers opposing the local government bill stage a protest in the Sindh Assembly.

The most recent incarnation of the Sindh Local Government Act has been the most unanimous, but thorny issues of delimitation and power-sharing remain as impediments

By Ahmed Yusuf

At first, after the Sindh Local Government Ordinance 2005 had lapsed, it seemed as if there were only two stakeholders in the process of local governance: the ruling duo of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).

But the new law is in fact a delicate balancing act between the wishes and interests of various stakeholders and political trends. It can only be perfected if the system is allowed to run, assessed and then its weaknesses redressed through the provincial legislature.

Any dispassionate analysis of the system of local governance instituted by General Pervez Musharraf would reveal the many inherent flaws and inefficiencies that needed to be rectified for the system to work. The Sindh Local Government Act of 2013 seeks to address exactly that: its stated objective is “to rationalise and reorganise the local government system in the province of Sindh.”

Not that reaching consensus on this Act was easy.

The previous incarnation of the Sindh Local Government Act was drafted a few months before the national polls in 2013: on October 1, 2012, the ruling coalition produced the Sindh People’s Local Government Act-2012 (SPLGA-2012) before the provincial assembly. Salient features of the SPLGA-2012 included the constitution of district metropolitan corporations in Karachi, Hyderabad, Larkana, Sukkur and Mirpurkhas. Karachi returned to five administrative districts, while the commissionerate system was restored in some areas.

Other political players in the province immediately accused the ruling duo of foul play, alleging that each of them had extracted the maximum political benefit out of the proposed local administrations and the delimitation process that was to follow. Many pointed to the parallel administrative systems as reasons to doubt the sincerity of the law. With elections near, even marginal groups such as Qaumi Awami Tehreek and Sindh Taraqqi Pasand Party mobilised street strength to protest the SPLGA-2012 condemning it as a “conspiracy to divide Sindh.”

The courts were moved against the legislation too; the Supreme Court slapped a stay order on the SPLGA and ordered the provincial authorities not to hand over any of the 42 departments that it was planning on devolving to the local level. Various bar associations also jumped on the anti-SPLGA bandwagon, with the Sindh Bar Association also announcing protest rallies of their own.

The showpiece event of this resistance came on December 14, 2012, when during a mammoth public gathering in Hyderabad, opposition parties under the banner of Sindh Bachayo Committee showed public strength in challenging what the PPP and the MQM had drafted as the future of local governance.

The agitation managed to garner enough bad press for the ruling duo for them to shelve the plan till national polls had been conducted. The SPLGA, despite PPP leaders previously protesting that it was the first democratically-formulated system, was repealed on February 21, 2013. The provincial government reverted to the Sindh Local Government Ordinance of 1979 as the operational law. In the fall out, the PPP and MQM also parted ways.

The ruling duo had in fact been locked in deliberations over the form of the new system around the time that the SLGO-2005 was lapsing. A provincial coordination committee was constituted between the two parties, an arrangement that was subsequently extended at the district level too.

While the focus of these discussions centred around Karachi and Hyderabad, the larger question was whether to revert to the local government system of 1979, to keep Musharraf’s system and amend it, or to create a new hybrid. Crucial too was the question of who would control official land and the police — the province or the district.

The PPP argued that both needed to remain the domain of the provincial government, while the MQM argued that control of law and order in the city needed to be handed to the elected administrator of the city. With certain gerrymandering already having taken place in Karachi and elsewhere under Gen Musharraf, and new districts carved out of old ones, the PPP argued that the redrawing of boundaries needed to be just and rational.

Then there was the question of revenue and taxation: In the Musharraf incarnation, the city administration was allowed authority over both — thereby handing the local government an avenue of sustaining itself and meetings its costs. In an amended draft that all parties except the PPP later rejected, the financial powers of the local government were clipped, with district supremos no longer enjoying the authority to either collect revenue or taxes.

The fact that single line transfers needed to be done away had an impact too; district governments were now dependant on the province for the approval and use of finances. Before, local governments owed their existence to a dictator; now, their sustenance depended on the provincial government.

The process of re-formulating a local government law restarted after the new Sindh Assembly took oath in 2013. In August that year, the Sindh government rolled out the Sindh Local Government Act-2013, but was forced to amend it thrice to satisfy various stakeholders.

The first amendment act was passed by the Sindh Assembly on October 31, 2013 and had the governor’s assent on November 1. One of the major changes made in this draft was that candidates could only contest as a panel and not as independent candidates.

Another was an amendment to Section 75, allowing the district governments to engage in business: “The Council may, with the prior permission of the government, promote, administer, execute or implement schemes for undertaking any commercial, business enterprise or enter into public private partnership.”

But these amendments were not acceptable to all, not even the junior coalition partner, the MQM. The Sindh High Court (SHC) was subsequently moved by various parties, including the MQM, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), and the Pakistan Muslim League- Functional (PML-F), to strike down the new amendments made by the PPP to the new local government act. The delimitation of constituencies in Karachi, Benazirabad, Naushero Feroz and other districts was also challenged. In all, over 10 applications had been filed to challenge the new law.

On December 30, 2013, a divisional bench of the SHC, headed by Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, granted the plea and declared all amendments to the proposed local government act as unconstitutional. The court ordered that the new changes be withdrawn immediately. The SHC also slammed the ruling PPP for continuing with the process of delimitation of constituencies and deemed these changes unconstitutional. It ordered the process be redone from scratch.

The second amendment act was passed in the Sindh Assembly on October 20, 2014. Among other changes, the phrase “union committee” was inserted in Section 10 — this brought some parity between union councils in the rural sector, and the new union committee in the urban sector.

Section 11 of the original law concerning delimitation of wards was done away with. In its original form, it read: “The government shall, in the prescribed manner, delimit wards in municipal committees, town committees and corporations.”

The third amendment act was passed by the Sindh Assembly on February 24, 2015. The governor provided his assent on February 28.

Section 10 came under the spotlight again. The amended text reads: “The government shall, by notification in the official gazette, determine the number of union councils, union committees and wards in municipal committees and town committees in accordance with the First Schedule... After demarcation of the councils under section 8 and determination of the number of union councils, union committees and wards under sub-section (1), the election commission shall delimit the union councils, union committees and wards.”

The argument of handing control over delimitation to the ECP was based on the premise that since the PPP would be contesting elections itself, it should not concern itself with election matters, else the neutrality of the process might be compromised.

But the Sindh government brushed aside these suggestions, arguing that responsibility was only being handed to the ECP on a temporary basis. In a sense, by rejecting these proposals, the PPP government retained its primacy over the process, and it could do so because it commanded the majority in the Sindh Assembly.

It is foolish to expect that the new local government system will be instituted without any hiccups. In terms of the division of responsibility and power, the implementation of this system is very much a case of experimenting till the balance of power is not skewed to any one side. This is a process that will take time and patience to keep iterating.

With the Sindh government assuming most responsibility for delimitation, it will also have to shoulder the blame for anything that goes wrong during the electoral process. But with the PPP under the cosh these days, any mistake could be fatal. How it negotiates this process might define the political course of Sindh. n

The writer tweets @ASYusuf

KP: Return of the ROs

June 3, 2015: Residents of Namli Meera, Abbottabad show ballot papers and ECP stamps that were allegedly used for rigging purposes during the local government polls
June 3, 2015: Residents of Namli Meera, Abbottabad show ballot papers and ECP stamps that were allegedly used for rigging purposes during the local government polls

The tables have turned: the PTI is at the receiving end of the same rigging allegations that it has made in Punjab. What went wrong?

By Zulfiqar Ali

Although most calls Dr Jehan Ara* receives are of an urgent nature, the call she received 17 hours before local government polls on May 30 left her in shock. The office of Peshawar’s deputy commissioner, who was the district returning officer for local government polls, had made the call to direct her to collect election material and join polling duty at a local polling station.

Prior to this, the only experience she had had of polling was when she herself went to a polling station to cast her vote in the previous general elections; she certainly didn’t know how to conduct the polls as a polling agent. Nevertheless, she had to do as directed and reported for duty at the assigned polling station on the outskirts of Peshawar.

“I have never performed election duty. This doesn’t make sense?” she murmured.

Such last-minute hustling merely underscored the level of preparedness to conduct local government elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) among officials of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and other relevant quarters. An official in the election commission, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that returning officers and assistant returning officers in some areas were deputed for election duty without much training.

But were the elections being taken seriously to begin with?

Senior functionaries of the provincial government and ECP officials privately concede that as huge an undertaking as local government polls were, they were not taken seriously and were conducted without proper arrangements and homework.

Throughout the process, incumbent Chief Election Commissioner Justice (Retd) Sardar Muhammad Raza, who belongs to KP and has served in the province, did not bother to visit Peshawar to review poll arrangements either.

“I have never seen such poor arrangements for elections in the past,” remarks Waseem Ahmad, a Peshawar-based journalist who has covered numerous elections, and points to there being no concept of making queues or maintaining order in and outside the polling station. “It was a free-for-all situation. The moment voters start breaking queues at the polling station, the chances of free and fair elections diminish.”

Security arrangements for the polls were inadequate too. Out of a total 11,211 polling stations, some 2,837 were declared highly sensitive; 3,940 sensitive; and 4,340 normal. Only two or three constables were deputed at each polling station for security and maintaining order.

It is no surprise that on polling day, and after polling closed, election-related violence claimed 21 lives. One minister was detained too, in Dera Ismail Khan, on charges of attacking a polling station.

In fact, the way the polls were conducted was anticlimactic. The ECP failed to assert its authority over the process, while the six-page code of conduct issued by the Commission was blatantly violated as well. Holding local government polls was part of the election manifesto of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), which had committed to conducting local government elections within three months of coming into power.

The PTI had also announced introducing a biometric system to prevent discrepancies and rigging in the polling process. Party chief Imran Khan’s daily sermons about free and fair elections and the tall claims of the ruling party had already upped the ante. Voters’ expectations were very high, as millions had to wait for almost two years to cast their votes in a secure environment.

But in truth, even the ruling party of the province was guilty of not following the ECP’s rules and regulations. For example, the Peshawar deputy commissioner had imposed Section 144 before the polls thereby banning public meetings, but PTI chief Imran Khan addressed rallies despite the ban.

Ministers and other public office holders carried out massive campaigns in their respective constituencies and the provincial government spent millions of rupees on publicity campaigns through advertisements in the media. The commission buried its head in the sand and did not take notice of these violations of the code of conduct.

In the aftermath, the KP government, ECP, and opposition politicians all seem to agree that a “ballot papers stuffing exercise” was conducted in the name of elections.

The ECP has notified a total of 93 election tribunals for hearing complaints, re-election has already been ordered on 351 polling stations across the province, while losing candidates in Peshawar alone have lodged over 2,500 complaints.

The mismanagement of polls triggered a blame game between the ECP and the provincial government. The commission accused the KP government of mismanagement and violence, while Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, Imran Khan and PTI’s coalition partner Jamaat-i-Islami held the ECP responsible for the mess on polling day.

The JI also blamed its senior coalition partner for using the police and the ROs to prop up support for PTI candidates, and alleged that the monitoring cell set up at Chief Minister’s House was in fact meant to manipulate results. On the other hand, opposition parties also made hay while the sun shone, and attacked the provincial government.

This scenario put both the provincial government and the PTI leadership in defensive mode: Imran Khan immediately offered re-election and CM Pervez Khattak summoned an all-parties conference and decided to form a judicial commission.

Most importantly, the provincial government notified a four-member committee headed by the chief secretary on June 12 to investigate “the causes of administrative failings which led to disturbances in the peaceful holding of local government elections and fix responsibility.” The committee will complete its findings and submit recommendations within 15 days.

The dilemma for the PTI is that it neither trusts the judiciary, which provided ROs for the May 2013 general elections, nor does it trust its executive officers who conducted the local government elections.

The question is: who is responsible for the mess? Is it the provincial government or is it the ECP?

A top legal brain of the KP government puts responsibility on the ECP but did not absolve the government either. He says it is the commission’s constitutional responsibility to conduct elections and not the provincial government’s: “Article 218 (3) says that it shall be the duty of the ECP to organise and conduct the election, and to make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly,” he says.

Keeping in view the provisions granted in the constitution, he argues that the chief election commissioner can summon the army 12 hours before polling if he is not satisfied with security and other arrangements.

“After announcing schedule for the election the entire machinery including police and civil administration is at the disposal of the commission to implement the code of conduct and provide a secure environment for voters,” he says.

Around 88,000 candidates were contesting these elections, and every voter had to cast six to seven ballots. There are reports that ballot boxes were not provided in some areas. The question is why the ECP arranged such a large scale exercise in a day?

“In principle conducting such a huge process in one day was not possible and it should have been held at least in three phases,” says an official of the commission. “This is a mistake on the part of the ECP.”

*Name changed to protect identity and privacy

Punjab: Under the weather

June 21,2015: Hamza Shahbaz convenes a party meeting to discuss the PMLN's local government preparations.
June 21,2015: Hamza Shahbaz convenes a party meeting to discuss the PMLN's local government preparations.

Polling preparations remains sluggish on account of the blazing heat and a prolonged delimitation process

By Amjad Mahmood

It’s a slow start for political parties in Punjab: local body elections in the province are scheduled on September 20, but the hot summers and the prolonged delimitation process and are already dampening all impetus for the grass-root electoral bout.

Most are awaiting the final list of constituencies that will be issued by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on July 28, after objections to the demarcations it has carried out with the help of the Punjab government have all been disposed of. Till then, the selection or nomination of candidates will remain on hold, confining the process to identifying potential winners.

The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has notified Hamza Shahbaz, the son of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, as the convener of the Lahore district committee to seek recommendations from the party cadre about potential candidates. Party MPs as well as district and provincial level office-bearers are members of the body, which held its maiden meeting on June 21.

Conveners for the other districts are yet to be named by the PML-N. A senior party leader, however, claims that all district committees will report to Hamza, who has earned his name as a good strategist by winning most by-polls in Punjab.

On the other hand is the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), the main opposition party, which is passing through another re-organisation phase; all its party organisations currently stand dissolved under an order of the party’s election commission.

And yet, the PTI is all set to try a new system of awarding tickets by forming committees at a provincial constituency level. The MPA or the ticket-holder who had secured at least 20 per cent of the polled votes in the last general election will head the body. With the help of “serious” candidates, he/she will recommend nominees at union council level and will be held accountable for the good, or bad, results.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which until the emergence of the PTI was the second largest party in Punjab, held a meeting of district leaders on June 16 in Lahore to decide fielding maximum candidates in the elections, hoping that the ticket-holders would also help “re-activate” and “re-energise” the party.

PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Co-Chairperson Asif Zardari have visited Punjab to give what provincial general secretary Tanveer Ashraf Kaira describes as a boost to the party’s local body endeavours. The father-son duo will meet district-level leaders to discuss strategies for the local polls, which Kaira asserts will become the basis for good performance in general election.

Jamaat-i-Islami’s Dr Waseem Akhtar and PML-Q’s Chaudhry Zaheer also believe that the true election atmosphere will develop and candidates will be decided only after the ECP finalises the constituencies.

Presently, they say, they have notified their respective bodies to look for suitable candidates besides getting voter lists. Iftar parties will provide enough chance in this hot season to the potential candidates to approach their electorates, they assert.

Delimitation blues

The PTI and other opposition parties are critical of the use of revenue department officials by the ECP for delimitation, alleging it has helped the ruling PML-N manipulate the process and get the demarcations of its choice. Former Punjab PTI president Ijaz Chaudhry terms it pre-poll rigging, as the party is challenging the delimitations in almost each district.

Quoting an example of the “disconnect” in constituencies in his home district Gujrat, PPP’s Kaira also claims that adjacent villages have been excluded to break the connection among areas of a constituency.

Both the PPP and JI, however acknowledge that as the ECP lacks manpower, it has been left with no choice but to use the provincial officialdom for demarcation process. Dr Akhtar is optimistic that repeated local polls will enable the ECP to have a complete basic revenue record and know-how for future delimitations.

Polls in phases

The opposition parties are divided on the provincial government’s intentions of recommending to the ECP that local polls be held phase-wise. While the PML-N argues that this could help avoid Khyber Pakhtunkhwa-like violence during local government polls that claimed the lives of over two dozen people, both the PTI and JI fear that the government will use this tactic to maximally manipulate the elections and further delay formation of local governments.

Ijaz Chaudhry recalls that the Musharraf regime had conducted its first local elections in phases and the process had taken around two years. “It means that local governments are not going to start functioning during the PML-N tenure, which will remain in power for three more years,” he says.

The PPP, however, differs on suggestions that the PML-N will delay elections “The PML-N considers itself to be at the peak of its popularity graph, and they believe that it is time to cash this popularity,” says Kaira.

About the chances of the opposition parties to win against the government-backed nominees, Kaira says that they will benefit from the division of the union councils into wards. “The comparatively smaller constituencies have ensured the role of personal performance or the public relations of a candidate in overcoming the voters’ psyche of voting for government-backed candidates.”

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 28th, 2015

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