ISLAMABAD: As the citizens of Islamabad elect their local government representatives after almost three decades on Monday, rigging by influential people has become difficult under the new system.

“In the past, boxes of different colours were allotted to the candidates. Influential candidates used to force the voters to bring their ballot papers out of the polling station and hand them over to their men to put it into the box,” Malik Liaquat, a former vice-chairman of UC Sohan, told Dawn.

However, he added, under the new LG system symbols are allotted to the candidates and the voter has to put the ballot papers in a box in front of the presiding officer.

But as there will be six ballot papers, it will be difficult for the citizens to cast their votes because they have no experience of it, he said.

In reply to a question, Mr Liaquat said in the past elections were contested on the basis of biradari and the same trend would be repeated in the rural areas now. However, in the urban areas, votes will be polled on the basis of political parties.

In the past, boxes of different colours were allotted to the candidates. Influential candidates used to force the voters to bring their ballot papers out of the polling station and hand them over to their men to put it into the box

He said offices were available only in 12 union councils and the elected members in other UCs will face problems in carrying out their work such as issuing birth certificates and registering marriages and deaths.

“The government should resolve the issue otherwise it will become difficult for the elected representatives to function,” he said.

Another former representative, Waqar Ahmed, said the new local government members would fail to deliver.

“In the past, elected representatives used to work for all the citizens but now people work only for their supporters. Moreover, citizens want the opening of bank branches, utility stores, schools and development work in their areas,” he said.

Mr Ahmed said sewage had also become a big issue in the absence of a proper drainage system in the rural areas.

Meanwhile, the government through an ordinance has brought changes to the local government system such as the number of deputy mayors has been increased from one to three and women seats in the Metropolitan Corporation decreased by almost 50 per cent. The senior-most deputy mayor will act as the mayor in the absence of the mayor.

President National Party Ayub Malik said his party had fielded 25 candidates.

“We do not know where the elected representatives will sit after winning the elections. We have approached different quarters but they did not give us any satisfactory answer,” he said.

Bringing rural and urban under one system

Those who were elected in the local government elections held in 1979 believe that in the past the members and chairmen of the UCs were more empowered compared to those under the new system. However, the Metropolitan Corporation under the new system is unique as for the first time the representatives of rural and urban Islamabad will be sitting together to discuss the civic issues.

Zafar Ali Shah, who was elected as the chairman of UC Kirpa in 1979, told Dawn that the 1979 elections were held only in the rural areas of Islamabad which comprised 12 UCs. Now the whole Islamabad has been divided into 50 UCs.

In 1979, the UC chairmen were elected indirectly by the councillors but now they will be elected directly, he said.

However, Mr Shah believed that the elected representatives would not be empowered.

“In the past, UCs had the power to generate income through taxation such as toll tax, property transfer tax, cattle market tax, professional tax, brick kiln and other taxes. However, under the new system, the UCs will not be able to collect taxes and will depend on the government funding,” he said.

All the UC chairmen will be members of the Metropolitan Corporation and will elect the mayor,” he said.

In reply to a question, he also said offices were available only in 12 UCs so it would be the job of the federal government to provide spaces for the UC offices.

“I believe that most of the union councils would have no offices. Moreover, it is yet to be decided where the Metropolitan Corporation will be housed,” he said.

Malik Liaquat, a former vice-chairman UC Sohan, told Dawn that due to the dictatorship of Ziaul Haq, the LG polls 1979 were held not on party basis.

He said it was for the first time that the local government elections were being held under a democratic government.

“In the past, we used to contest the elections by promising to resolve the issues of water and construct concrete streets but now major issues of the citizens include gas, low voltage of electricity and sewage,” he said.

Deputy Commissioner Mushtaq Ahmed told Dawn that arrangements, including security measures, had been finalized for the elections.

He said 100 polling stations had been declared sensitive where police and Rangers would be deployed. He said army can also be called out if there was a need. The DC said polling materials were transported to all the polling stations on Sunday.

“A control room has also been established to deal with any untoward situation and timely communication,” he added.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2015