THE people of Karachi, unfortunately, will be deprived of an elected local government for the foreseeable future. Pakistan’s biggest metropolis has been without a functional third tier of government for the past two years, when the term of the last elected local bodies expired.
The PPP-led Sindh government, never keen on empowering the third tier, had written to the ECP calling for the third postponement of LG polls, and on Tuesday, the commission acceded to Sindh’s request, saying it had no other option but to put off the polls if adequate security personnel were not available. In a related move, the chief election commissioner warned the Punjab government to enact legislation within a week to pave the way for LG polls in the province, or to hold elections under the existing law. As the CEC noted, there has been no local government in Punjab for the last 10 months.
The fact that Pakistan’s two most populous provinces are dragging their feet over LG polls speaks volumes about the value mainstream political parties place on the elected third tier. Whether it is the PPP in Sindh, or the PML-Q-PTI combine in Punjab, those who claim to be the standard-bearers of democracy are loath to see the democratic exercise carried out at the grassroots level. The fear of losing influence at the local level, and the possible emergence of alternative political options perhaps fuels the mainstream parties’ paranoia against LG polls.
The first phase of the local polls in Sindh, barring Karachi and Hyderabad, was held in July, but urban parts of the province have yet to cast their vote. The elections were earlier put off due to heavy rains and the subsequent devastating floods. But the waters have started receding, and Karachi remained unaffected by the deluge. Yet Sindh’s rulers came up with the plea that law enforcers were busy in flood relief work, and they face a shortage of 16,000 police personnel to ensure polls’ security.
Moreover, the interior ministry also expressed its inability to free up army and Rangers’ personnel for election duty. The ECP is due to meet in two weeks to re-evaluate the situation. Time will tell if a new poll date is announced, or if the Sindh government, which wants a postponement of at least three months, will again express its inability to hold the polls. As for Punjab, the ruling coalition needs to fast-track legislation to ensure polls are not further delayed.
Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2022