KARACHI: Conceding that the Sindh Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2021 was passed in ‘haste’ by his government, the Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Wednesday blamed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for this hurry, as it had set a deadline for the legislation.

However, he invited all parties of the province for talks, saying that the Sindh government was still open to incorporate justified contributions of all political stakeholders before the bill becomes a law.

However, he warned that any move under the ‘false pretext’ of complaints and reservations against the LG bill to delay the local government elections would not be tolerated.

Speaking at a press conference at Bilawal House, he added that the PPP government was determined to hold polls for municipal administrations in every district of Sindh that would further strengthen the democratic roots and devolve powers to the grassroots level.

“Because of the restrictions of the ECP, we needed to pass it [Sindh Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2021] in haste,” he said.

Says Sindh has no space for politics of hatred

“That has created a space for misunderstanding. Otherwise, we would have definitely held conversation and arrange debate with civil society, political stakeholders and the opposition. The deadline of Nov 30 [by ECP] in fact created the confusion and constrained several things,” he said.

Accompanied by Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, Administrator Murtaza Wahab, LG Minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah, Information Minister Saeed Ghani and party’s information secretary Shazia Mari, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said that the Sindh government was still ready to accept any suggestion from the opposition if found justified and in line with democratic norms.

Politics of ‘ethnic divide’

When he was referred to serious allegations from his opponents that the new bill was creating urban-rural and ethnic divide, the PPP chairman called it “politics of Altaf Hussain [founder of Muttahida Qaumi Movement]” and warned there was no space left for such ‘hatred’.

“As far as dialogue is concerned, we are in contact with all political parties for their suggestions and proposals on the bill and still we would like them to come up with the same and their justified contributions would be accepted,” said Mr Bhutto-Zardari.

“But no one should reject or criticise this bill saying that it carries ethnic colour. There’s nothing like that. This is a typical Altaf Hussain mindset. This is his politics. But this should be clear to everyone that this city and this province have no more space for this politics of hatred. It no more allows anyone to sell such idea among the peace-loving people of this province.”

The offer to opposition parties from the PPP chairman came only a day after Sindh Governor Imran Ismail refused to give his assent to the LG bill and returned it to the Sindh Assembly for reconsideration raising several objections.

The effectiveness of the flexibility showed by the ruling party chief, however, remains under question as the joint opposition in the Sindh Assembly has already ruled out any possibility of talks with the provincial government before the withdrawal of the controversial bill, warning the PPP would face a strong reaction from all political stakeholders who are planning a protest movement against the ‘dictatorial law’.

Shrugs off PTI’s criticism

At the press conference when asked about the fast declining culture of tolerance and dialogue among political rivals and recent episodes in the Sindh Assembly, he said that the PPP had always welcomed criticism, but criticised the role of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf as the opposition party saying that it had always played a ‘dual game’ which could not be justified.

“Frankly speaking, I see the criticism of other political parties [against the recently passed bill] justified to some extent,” he said. “But the PTI criticism on the process cannot be justified by any means. I told you that it is due to time constraints which led to passing of this bill in haste but how can the PTI protest over this? Draft of every single law passed by the PTI government in the centre is never shared with the National Assembly. They bulldoze every rule in the parliament and here they present themselves as true democrats,” he said.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2021

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