LAHORE: The current political imbroglio is likely to affect the long pending local government elections in Punjab as neither the government nor opposition seem interested in the enactment of law for finalising the design of the third tier of governance.

Both the government and opposition are differing on the basic structure of the local governments.

The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf is not ready to restore municipal committees in the new proposed system, while the opposition PML-N and PPP as well as PML-Q, a government ally, are insisting on their introduction so that urban centres in the province are not neglected in the new system.

The two sides are also poles apart on the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the electoral contest first phase of which is due on May 29 as per announcement of the Election Commission of Pakistan.

Govt, opposition differ on basic structure of local govts

The Punjab Assembly standing committee vetting the 222-clause draft local government law had not met for the last three weeks though around half of the clauses of the bill are yet to be discussed before sending the bill to the House for final approval.

The ECP has been stressing on the provincial authorities for the earlier enactment of the local government law and release of Rs9 billion funds the election authority had sought as expenses for conducting the polls.

When passed the draft law will finalise the local government structure and ECP will have to undertake demarcation of constituencies, if required, accordingly and print the election material.

Presently, the formalities are being processed under the Punjab Local Government Ordinance 2021, which has been re-promulgated last week after the expiry of the life of the earlier one.

The election authorities fear that holding of the polls under the ordinance may be challenged in the court for being a temporary law like the one promulgated for conducting the local elections in Islamabad.

Punjab Local Government Secretary Dr Naeem Rauf met the ECP authorities in Islamabad on Wednesday and apprised them of the latest situation.

He tells Dawn that he had assured the ECP that progress was being made on both the lawmaking and release of funds issues.

The ‘inordinate’ delay in enacting a formal law is, however, making intentions of the government suspicious [for holding the local polls].

The government has to act fast for the enactment of the law within a couple of weeks so that the ECP has ample time to take care of all the formalities, which includes at least a 45-day period for election schedule — from submission of nominations till the polling day.

Whereas under the prevailing law/ordinance, the polls are to be held on a party basis, and those desiring to contest as independents will have to form groups and register them with the ECP before submitting their candidatures.

A provincial minister says that they are over-engaged in the present political mess and have no time to decide the nitty-gritty of the new local government system.

An opposition member of the standing committee says they are in no mood to press the government for the earliest passage of the law because the latter on the basis of its majority could bulldoze their suggestions about the new local government system and the method for holding the polls.

“As there are hopes that the incumbent government may be shown the door through a no-confidence vote in the near future we’ll wait until we come into power and frame the law as per our views. Therefore, unlike our past objectives, we shall neither move a court nor shall come out on roads for forcing the government to hold the local polls at the earliest,” he confides to Dawn.

Published in Dawn, March 10th, 2022

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