Amid uncertainty, first phase of LG polls in Sindh begins today

Published April 28, 2022
The formal process for the first phase of local government (LG) elections in four divisions of Sindh will kick off today. —Dawn/File
The formal process for the first phase of local government (LG) elections in four divisions of Sindh will kick off today. —Dawn/File

THE formal process for the first phase of local government (LG) elections in four divisions of Sindh will kick off today (Apr 28), with the actual polling taking place nearly two months later, on June 26. In the first phase, polls are to be conducted in the Sukkur, Larkana, Shaheed Benazirabad and Mirpurkhas divisions. The Karachi and Hyderabad divisions will go to polls in the second phase, to be held at a later date.

The elections are being held in light of a recent verdict of the Supreme Court (SC) on the Sindh Local Government Act of 2013, which had necessitated amendments to the existing LG law. The MQM had questioned the 2013 LG law before the SC, pleading that it negates Article 140-A, which calls for ‘political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority’ to be given to elected representatives of LGs.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has, however, announced the polling schedule before the amendments have been made and there is, therefore, considerable uncertainty regarding how the exercise will proceed.

“I doubt that the Sindh government will be ready to hold the LG polls as announced considering the weather conditions in June as well as pending compliance on the SC’s verdict,” a leader of a political party leader recently told Dawn.

Candidates in four of six divisions of province to obtain nomination papers from returning officers

No political challenge seen for PPP

Given the present political landscape in Sindh, the PPP might get a walkover in the June 26 polls since there is no political challenge of note for the party, which has been ruling Sindh since 2008. The only other political forces that may pose a bit of a challenge are either the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) or the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf. Then come the Sindhi nationalist parties, who are looking to form an alliance of likeminded parties to improve their chances.

The GDA — formed in Oct 2017 — had been an ally of the PTI at the federal level, but has preferred to remain in parliament after the PTI ‘resigned’ in the wake of the Imran Khan-led government’s ouster. It has diverse representation from mainstream as well nationalist parties in its fold. Recently, however, its secretary-general, Ayaz Latif Palijo, resigned from his position. Dr Safdar Abbasi of the PPP-Workers replaced him.

The GDA is led by the incumbent Pir Pagara — Syed Sibghatullah Rashdi of the Pakistan Muslim League (Functional). The Pir had formed GDA after a struggle against what he and Sindhi nationalists described as a ‘dual local government system’ introduced by a PPP-MQM coalition in 2012.

The PML-F had held a big show in Hyderabad with the overwhelming support of the spiritual acolytes of the Pir’s Hur Jamaat as well as other nationalist parties. However, though the electoral tussle even turned bloody in Daraza Sharif, Khairpur, it could not win a single district-level chairmanship in the last LG polls held in 2015.

It seems situation is not different from what it was seven years ago.

According to GDA spokesperson Sardar Rahim, “We are pressing for the scrapping of some clauses of the LG law as ordered by the SC. Any election held without addressing this anomaly in law will not be legally tenable. We are not against the elections though.”

He said he smells a rat in the ECP’s polls announcement. “We need to know which LG law prevails in Sindh if the SC’s Feb 2 order holds the field.” He believes the PPP is poised to capitalise on the political crisis and wants to hold the LG polls in haste. “The existing LG law is defective,” he insisted.

The GDA has been talking to the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), which recently agitated against the SLGA (Amendment) Act of 2021 passed by the ruling PPP. The PPP too spoke to the PSP and JI, but nothing substantive has come out of those discussions.

“We agree with the GDA’s viewpoint on the law. The polling schedule was withdrawn in Punjab previously; the question of law has to be decided first,” Syed Mustafa Kamal of the PSP said. The PSP has filed a petition for the implementation of the SC’s verdict and the GDA filed an application to become intervener in it.

Another alliance in the offing?

Meanwhile, the Sindhi nationalist parties are considering the formation of a broad-based alliance to ‘replace’ the PPP. There has, for a considerable time, been talk of such an alliance as an alternate political force for Sindh. However, its future is still a bit uncertain as, according to one observer, Zain Shah of the Sindh United Party (SUP) is not completely sold on the alliance.

“Some academic work is under way on the alliance, which will be modelled on the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO): with multiple parties working under a single leadership,” Dr Qadir Magsi of the Sindh Taraqqi-pasand Party (STP) told Dawn.

While major nationalist parties are registered with ECP, some likeminded parties like Porhiyat Mazahamt Tehreek and newly formed Social Democratic Party aren’t. Their alliance will need to be first registered if it is to have a single election symbol.

“If the first phase [of polls] is held as planned and we do not have [a formal] alliance, we will go for adjustments to support each other’s candidates and not leave the field wide open [for the PPP],” SUP president Shah said. “Such conditions will definitely benefit PPP in polls,” he added.

It was Dr Magsi who had first floated the idea of “one political party” for all Sindhi nationalists. “Then we discussed that we should at least have some alliance of likeminded nationalists, as the Sindh Action Committee (SAC) includes friends who do not believe in elections and Pakistan’s legal framework,” he explained, alluding to the nationalists who desire a “sovereign” Sindh.

Magsi and Palijo fought against each other in the 2018 polls, when the latter contested as the GDA’s candidate and former as STP’s. Magsi had earlier withdrawn in favour of Palijo in the 2013 polls, when the much talked-about ’10-party alliance’ in Sindh had contested against the PPP and had lost.

Besides questions over compliance with the SC’s order on LG laws, the delimitation of constituencies done recently in different cities is another bone of contention and has also been taken up in court. The GDA wants the Sindh government to convene the Sindh Assembly session to bring the LG law in conformity with SC’s order. Some observers hint that, in such conditions, the polling schedule might be extended to address these legal issues first.

Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2022

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