KARACHI Administrator Murtaza Wahab’s announcement that the second phase of Sindh’s LG polls — primarily affecting Karachi and Hyderabad — could be delayed yet again, is dismaying for all those who realise the value of an elected third tier of government. If the decision to delay the polls is taken, it would be the third time the second leg of the crucial electoral exercise would be delayed. While the first leg was conducted in June, the second phase was supposed to be held in July but was put off till August due to Muharram security concerns as well as the forecast for heavy rains. That was seen as a justifiable move as the province was battered by record-breaking rainfall this monsoon. The August date was also understandably revised to Oct 23 as Sindh was then in the midst of a massive flood emergency. Now it seems the October date, too, may pass without elections, as Mr Wahab said police personnel from other districts would be unavailable for poll security in Karachi. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has himself been quoted as saying in the media that LG polls are not possible “in the next few months”. Meanwhile in Punjab, the governor has sent back the LG bill to the assembly with objections. Until the bill is passed, Pakistan’s most populous province won’t be able to conduct LG polls either.
The fact that Sindh and Punjab have dithered on the conduct of local polls reflects the mindsets of the mainstream parties. The sad fact is that self-professed democrats in Pakistan are afraid of empowering the third tier — the tier closest to the people — lest they lose their privilege networks. This has had a devastating effect on service delivery to citizens, especially after the Musharraf-era local governments were wrapped up. While parts of Hyderabad have been affected by flooding, there is simply no justification to put off the polls in Karachi, which has been unaffected by the deluge. Surely security can be addressed by utilising the present strength of police and Rangers. As for Punjab, the PTI-PML-Q combine that rules the province, and the governor, who represents the PML-N government at the centre, should not make the LG polls a political football, to be kicked around indefinitely to the detriment of the people’s welfare. Lack of an elected third tier is patently unconstitutional as it deprives people of the basic right to choose their local representatives.
Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2022