Power at grassroots

15 Sep 2020


SINDH Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has added another twist to the never-ending local government saga in the country. Mr Shah has conditioned the holding of LG elections in the province on the delimitation of constituencies, which in turn is linked to a population headcount whose results enjoy consensus. These assertions would well-nigh be impossible to oppose, just as it is extremely difficult for many in the country to accept the results of the census of 2017. The issue of the census results should be debated and settled by the political parties and the ECP so that new demarcations can be carried out soon and the provincial government can hold elections within 120 days of the completion of the delimitation exercise. Without the fulfilment of these formalities, Sindh cannot be legally forced to hold LG polls even if these are considered essential to democratic growth and people’s empowerment. True, there are vested-interest groups all over Pakistan; these groups persist with their denial of this form of popular rule at the grassroots, and comprise, for the most part, a province’s ruling party that is loath to share any vestige of power with the lower tier of government.

Mr Shah has just managed to rid himself of a Karachi mayor that the Sindh dispensation couldn’t quite fire. He was fortunate that he did not have to face an antagonistic local-level government in those parts of the province where his party had won the general election. In Punjab, the unfortunate government felt that it had no option but to dissolve the LGs because the latter were dominated by its rivals. The sad aspect was that while so much muck flew to and fro, the winding up of the LGs generated very little by way of protest. It was a fait accompli. This is how it always happens in the country when it comes to the question of empowerment.

The provincial units are looking for ways and means to ensure that a further downward transfer would not hurt them. Those reluctant to share power could mean a class of politicians, or a party, or an individual or the family that the party is all about. Chief Minister Shah may be working to protect the interests of all of them since these elements appear to come together under the PPP’s umbrella at the moment. A more people-oriented political trajectory could perhaps have put the party on the road to acknowledging, without reservations, the need to hold LG polls, instead of trying to find loopholes. The process appears to be endless; how long will it take for those in power to work out a formula to share power with the local authorities? A deadline must be set. Local impatience may be growing amid a global trend to have smaller units for better management.

Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2020