KARACHI: Just a couple of days after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) turned down Sindh government’s request to put off local government elections in Karachi division for three months, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government expressed its inability to hold the crucial polls arguing that it was focusing on relief and rehabilitation of flood victims which did not allow it to shift its attention, resources and energy to “other issues”.

The Sindh government has been under severe criticism from its opponents over the past many years, mainly for curtailing powers of local government institution and also delaying its polls. In recent weeks, it has been using different mediums and sources to express its inability to hold the elections.

However, it is most probably for the first that the party’s top leadership has expressed its heart out when its chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Thursday came up with the arguments against holding of the LG elections in Karachi in the wake of devastating floods that have recently hit Sindh.

“My provincial government will not be able to withdraw a policeman and post him in Nazimabad for local government polls duty,” the PPP chairman, who holds the portfolio of foreign minister responded to a question after addressing a press conference at CM House.

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Accompanied by Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, Sindh PPP president Senator Nisar Khuhro and members of the provincial cabinet, he also referred to “provision within the Constitution” which allowed taking “extraordinary decisions in extraordinary times”.

“It’s time to put politics aside,” he said.

“There’s a natural calamity we are facing. Lives of more than 33 million are at a serious risk. Elections will keep taking place but right now we have 33 million people to take care of. Therefore, our focus should be on them. Let’s press a pause button on politics for a while,” he added.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s direct and strong stand came a couple of days after the ECP (On Tuesday) turned down Sindh government’s request to put off local government elections in Karachi division for three months.

The Sindh police chief, a day ago, had actually conveyed to the provincial government that he could not withdraw policemen busy in relief efforts in flood-hit parts of the province for deployment in the metropolis for election security, less than three weeks before the date of polling for the LG elections in Karachi division.

The ECP had fixed Oct 23 for the LG election in seven districts of Karachi. Last week, Karachi Administrator and provincial government’s spokesperson Murtaza Wahab had also hinted at further deferment of the much-delayed LG polls.

With fresh excuse from the ruling party chief and the uncertainty further deepening about the polls, the opposition parties reacted strongly to PPP’s stance and warned that any move by the Sindh government to postpone the LG elections in the metropolis would have political and legal consequences.

Former federal minister and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Sindh president Ali Zaidi addressed a hurriedly called press conference, hardly an hour after Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s presser, and accused the ruling party of conspiring against the LG elections in Karachi in the name of relief and rehabilitation work.

“The PPP is well aware that it can’t win election in Karachi and devastating defeat is its fate,” he said. “As such, they are making excuses one after another. Secondly they don’t want to lose Karachi from its provincial administration’s control, mainly for the financial reasons. Years of bad governance, corruption and violation of law are at PPP’s credit. They have nothing to win votes in Karachi and today [Thursday] Bilawal has conceded defeat. The people of Karachi wouldn’t forgive PPP and we expect the ECP that it would fulfill its responsibility of holding free, fair and timely LG polls [in Karachi].”

He also questioned the “logic” shared by the PPP chairman for delaying the LG polls and called it a “shameful excuse” to avoid defeat.

“Only a week ago, thousands of policemen were deployed in Karachi for security during a cricket match series [between Pakistan and England],” he said.

“If it can be made possible for whole week, why can’t the police provide security only for the polling day? It’s shameful.”

Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) Karachi chief Hafiz Naeem ur Rehman also “condemned” contentions of “the so-called champions of the democracy”.

The PPP, he said, had already earned a reputation of “anti-Karachi” party and the fresh remarks of its chief had further strengthened this impression.

“How can you keep people deprived of their basic rights only to save your vested interests?” he said.

“Our party is actively engaged in relief and rehabilitation of flood victims and everyone knows that it’s more the mismanagement, corruption, bad governance and efforts of protecting interests and properties of certain people which have led to such devastation and tragedy. Any further delay in the holding of LG polls in Karachi would attract people’s anger and protest.”

Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2022

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