LAHORE: The Punjab government has formally requested the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to announce a schedule for holding local government elections in Punjab.

A local government elections committee, led by Punjab Law Minister Basharat Raja, on Wednesday held a meeting with Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja in Islamabad and asked for local government elections’ schedule under Punjab Village Punchayat and Neighbourhood Councils’ Act 2019.

Punjab Local Government and Community Development (LG&CD) Department Secretary Dr Ahmad Javed Qazi briefed the CEC about the readiness of Punjab to hold the elections.

According to the Punjab government, the CEC said the local government election schedule would soon be announced. The CEC also lauded Punjab government’s continuous cooperation and coordination for the holding of local government elections in the province.

It is learnt that the CEC asked the Punjab government whether it wanted to hold elections in one go or in phases and sought proposals. The Punjab government assured the CEC that formal proposals would be submitted in a few days.

“After receiving formal proposals from the Punjab government, the ECP will hold another meeting with the Punjab government representatives to finalise the election schedule,” said CEC Raja.

It is reliably learnt that the Punjab government has plans to hold local government elections in phases that include 21,678 Village Punchayats and 3,560 Neighbourhood Councils. “The elections will probably be held division-wise because there is a big spread of elections in 25,238 entities and the government lacked resources and officers to conduct elections simultaneously,” an LG&CD department official said.

Each Village Punchayat will have at least 200 people population, while each Neighbourhood Council will have at least 15,000 to 22,000 people.

It is learnt that the Punjab government has already prepared Delimitation Rules and Local Government Election Rules in due consultation with the ECP. The LG&CD department has also prepared maps for the delimitation of Village Punchayat and Neighbourhood Councils’ constituencies. In maps, each and every block had been marked.

Sources say that the Election Act required 60 days to hold the elections that include displaying a scheme of delimitations and seeking public objections in 15 days and rectification of objections and displaying of final lists in the next 15 days.

The Punjab government had already completed the outer boundaries of metropolitans and now completed delimitations of Neighbourhood Councils.

Following the election dates will be announced by the ECP, an LG&CD department official said that it would take 45 days to hold elections in 25,238 Village Punchayat and Neighbourhood Council entities division-wise because it would be impossible to manage a large spread of elections in 25,238 entities in one go. The official also said that the Punjab government expected Village Punchayat elections in October and November this year.

It is learnt that the local government elections would present a major change as it will be party-based direct elections. “People will be directly voting for their favourite parties’ candidates and the mayor in municipal corporations and lord mayor in metropolitan corporations.

Explaining the election in municipal and metropolitan corporations, an official said that each

party would field its candidates – even more than the seats in a House – and seek votes from people. “Supposedly, if a party gets 60 per cent of the total votes; it will grab first 60 per cent seats of total seats in a House and the top 60 per cent candidates would be inducted in the House and the next 40 per cent seats would go to other parties under a similar formula,” the official said.

In this manner, the official said, the already nominated candidate for mayor and lord mayor would be directly elected by the voters.

In the meantime, the LG&CD department has plans to build the capacity of its human resources through training and awareness campaigns through the media.

The department is also in the process of automating the local governments’ systems to create an enabling environment for managing human resources, financial management, e-tendering for open competition of contractors. The LG&CD has already recruited some 300 new officers through the Punjab Public Service Commission and offered them online training.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2020