Sunday, October 6, 2013

Pakistan: Inordinate delay in LG polls

Sad as it is elected provincial governments, both the previous and the present ones, have been reluctant to cede power to the grass roots level. Foot dragging on holding elections to this third tier of government continues under one pretext or the other. The election Commission of Pakistan has informed the Supreme Court of Pakistan that it cannot hold local bodies elections in 2013 for the simple reason that the pre-poll preparations by provinces are not complete yet. It may be recalled that following the 2008 elections, one by one the then provincial governments had dismissed local bodies replacing them with the colonial era commissionerate system. They kept ignoring the constitutional provision to hold fresh elections and hand over control to local representatives of the people. The Supreme Court, taking suo motu notice of the irregularity in April last year, ordered the governments to hold elections on the same day in June. Still, the resistance continued. The excuse used was incomplete voters' lists even though by-elections were regularly held for assembly seats that fell vacant either because of death of a member or disqualification on account of a fake degree. That being the background, it is hardly surprising if the court is exasperated over inordinate delay in LG polls - this time on account of federal and KPK governments' slow progress in passing the required law. A three-member bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry reminded the federal and provincial governments on Thursday that "the general public at the grass roots level must be allowed to participate in the democratic system, which is possible only if they take part through their representatives in the local government elections." The KPK government has taken as long as it has to pass the necessary legislation because it is in the process of making a radical change in the old system, converting 957 union councils into 35,000 village councils representing 8,000 people, each. Which is a much welcome change aimed at genuine grass roots empowerment. Necessary fresh delimitation work is to take time. The KPK Advocate General told the court that that is the reason the provincial government is reluctant to give a specific timeframe for the elections. There is no valid justification whatsoever for the federal government's failure to decide the schedule for LG polls in the capital territory. The court has said the governments have to make some stopgap arrangements, "especially when the constitution gives a way out." The way out is to issue ordinances pending legislation. There is no constitutional obligation, nonetheless, for the provinces to hold LG elections on the same day. KPK's issue should not hold back the other three provinces or Islamabad. They must go ahead to announce firm dates instead of giving the court vague assurances, Sindh government says it is 'likely' to hold the elections by November 27 and Balochistan sometime around December 7. Punjab has set a date, December 14, for the electoral exercise, though after passing a law that takes away vital administrative functions and financial independence from the LGs. It seems that a better way to deal with this foot dragging would be for the court to set a timeframe and seek compliance.

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